Progressive Classics: Settler Colonialism


Settler colonialism is the act of moving in and taking over. Wikipedia defines the term as a “specific colonial formation whereby foreign family units move into a region and reproduce.” Settler colonialism contains two distinct parts: migration and displacement through power. According to the writers at, not all people who migrate are colonizing settlers. Instead, “Settlers come to stay…They are founders of political orders who carry with them a distinct sovereign capacity. And settler colonialism is not colonialism: settlers want Indigenous people to vanish (but can make use of their labour before they are made to disappear).”

In my own experience, I have observed–as an outsider and ally–the effects of past and present settler colonialism. When I was living in Gallup, New Mexico, I worked closely with families of the Navajo and Zuni tribes. There, stories of historical resistance, of past defeat and present oppression surrounded us.

Settler colonialism permeates our present reality and informs how we understand the past. Many in the U.S. are familiar with the history of colonization in the Americas by European countries. History books tell how White men invaded lands occupied by Native peoples. This was followed by mass killings, broken treaties and forced relocation to reservations land, allowing European families to grow and flourish.

Image courtesy of the Toronto Sun.

Image courtesy of the Toronto Sun.

Yet, the onslaught and lasting effects of settler colonialism have been met by continued resistance. On December 11, 2012, Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Canada, went on a hunger strike demanding that the Canadian government listen to indigenous people. In an effort to call attention to many concerns–including fears about environmental degradation and high rates of poverty among indigenous tribes in Canada–Chief Theresa occupied a tepee nearby Parliament Hill and survived on a liquid diet of fish broth, teas and lemon water until January 24, 2013. Canada is a wealthy country, with rich industries such as logging, mining and fishing. Many of these industries use land belonging to the First Nations in Canada, yet the people of these groups do not receive compensation for this use. Chief Theresa Spence demanded a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and her activism brought international attention to the Idle No More movement. Despite her efforts, Spence was not granted a meeting with the Prime Minister.

However, the movement continues to grow. People are organizing and speaking out. With inspiration from Chief Spence and other uprisings like the Occupy movement, Idle No More is a growing protest network. To join the movement, visit the website and Facebook page and attend the next protest. Everyone can join the fight for a better world and ensure that indigenous lands are cared for and diverse cultures are valued.

by Jolene Halzen, Nonprofit Management M.S. degree candidate at the New School for Public Engagement

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