What Does “Decolonize Oakland” Mean? What Can “Decolonize Oakland” Mean?
When we presented the proposal for a Memorandum of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples to the General Assembly of “Occupy Oakland” on October 28, several individuals came forward to pose deeply felt questions about what – exactly – we were asking of them.
Ultimately, what they were asking is whether or not we were asking them, as non-indigenous people, the impossible? Would their solidarity with us require them to give up their lands, their resources, their ways of life, so that we – who numbered so few, after all – could have more? Could have it all?
I have thought much about what a proposal of solidarity with indigenous peoples is asking of the citizens and immigrants of Oakland, California, and the United States. What does it mean to ask them to “aspire to “Decolonize Oakland” – not occupy it – in solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Oakland? Of California? Of the United States?
The History Question:
Oakland is Already Occupied Lands
Genuine solidarity assumes historical understanding. It assumes an understanding of the very basics of how indigenous peoples have been and continue to be: 1) denied their basic human rights to self-determination and self-definition; 2) defrauded of their lands; 3) targeted by military programs of genocide, enslavement, extraction, and pollution; 4) objectified through physical and sexual forms of violence and discrimination; 5) profiled in hate – sometimes in forms of romance and sometimes in forms of crime and police brutality.
The Chochenyo Ohlone people – the people indigenous to what is now Oakland – and several of their indigenous brothers and sisters throughout the State of California and the United States – have experienced such relentless colonial and imperial efforts that they now have no collective territory of their own. No recognized legal status or rights as indigenous. No means to self-government and self-sufficiency on the lands and in the waters that once sustained them.
The Chochenyo Ohlone people, like so many indigenous peoples in California and the United States, live with the historical and real consequences of a post-colonial, post-imperial stress disorder: displaced, defrauded, targeted, objectified, degraded, depressed.
Genuine solidarity with indigenous peoples assumes a basic understanding of how histories of colonization and imperialism have produced and still produce the legal and economic possibility for Oakland. For San Francisco. For San Jose. For all of the colonies-now-municipalities of the San Francisco bay area, northern California, and the west coast of the United States.
You are on occupied lands!
We can still alter our course. It is NOT too late. We still have options. We need the courage to change our values to the regeneration of our families, the life that surrounds us. Given this opportunity, we can raise ourselves. We must join hands with the rest of Creation and speak of Common Sense, Responsibility, Brotherhood, and PEACE. We must understand that The Law is the Seed and only as True Partners can we survive.
Oren Lyons, Chief, Onondaga Nation
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is a movement mobilized by the exploitations, degradations, indignities, and incestuousness of U.S. capitalism, corporate greed, and political corruption.
“We are the 99%” because – as so many others – indigenous peoples have lost their homes, their jobs, their dignity in a legal-economic system that indentures them to it in perpetuity. 25% of indigenous peoples in the United States live below the poverty line. They have lost their lands, their jobs, their opportunities. And, as a kind of joke only capitalism can laugh at, the only viable economic options indigenous peoples have been presented in this system is to either open casinos or lease their lands to corporations and government agencies for resource extraction and toxic waste storage.
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is a great beacon light of hope – a hope in the possibility – for a revolution that will usher in for all of us the peaceful enjoyment of our basic human rights to equality and dignity. This hope, this possibility, is the light of accountability and responsibility, not handouts. Not bail outs. But genuine account to and for the spiritual laws of relationship and responsibility to the earth, to one another, to the future.
In that light of hope and possibility, indigenous peoples ask not for a free hand, for an unfettered return of their stolen land, but for a stand in solidarity for justice. For a stand in solidarity against a capitalist system that has long since foreclosed on their land rights, their economic rights, their humanity.
There will be no reform of capitalism without redress to the history of U.S. fraud, genocide, and discrimination against indigenous peoples.
There will be no reform of capitalism without redress to the others who have been historically colonized and imperialized by its greed – including non-heterosexuals, the racialized and sexually exploited, migrant workers, the unemployed, the closed out and closed in.
The liberation of indigenous peoples cannot happen while queers, people of color, women, migrants, the poor continue to be oppressed by colonial-imperial capitalism.
“I Have A Dream…”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Being asked to aspire to decolonization in solidarity with indigenous peoples is being asked to dream differently of what has been, what is, and what can be from the perspective of those whose stolen lands and exploited bodies capitalism has been based.
The promise of the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the promise of justice for indigenous peoples. The U.S. government has willfully defrauded and debased that promise in the name of capitalism. In its unfettered greed and deregulation. In its distortion of democracy and freedom for market and profit.
Solidarity with indigenous peoples in reforming this bankrupt system requires everyone to compromise. To give to one another. To restore, to return, to rematriate. To liberate.
I have a dream of reform. I have a dream rooted not in the American dream, but in a dream of the decolonization of America. Of the decolonization of what Americans dream of.
I have a dream that one day this nation will hold itself accountable to its constitution, to its treaties, to its accords on the human rights of indigenous peoples: that it will genuinely affirm “that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples,” “that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind,” and that there is an “urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic, and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.”
I have a dream that the people of “Occupy Oakland” will not see the affirmation of indigenous peoples’ rights to self-government, territorial restoration, and cultural autonomy as a threat to their own; that they will see solidarity with indigenous peoples as an affirmation of their humanity and justice. Of their possibilities for transformation and empowerment.
I have a dream that the liberation of indigenous peoples from capitalism’s greed, corruption, and fraud will transform the “Occupy Wall Street” vision of what a just and equitable society looks like. I have a dream of a society that is sustainable, restorative, peaceful.
I have a dream.