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What Do We Mean by “Decolonize Cascadia”?

by Jack DeVore (Oglala-Hunkpapa Lakota)

This piece was originally published in Cascadia Spoke, a community publication dedicated to raising awareness of the Cascadia movement and bioregionalism.

What do we mean when we say “Decolonize”?

Without context and explanation, many non-indigenous people make some pretty wild assumptions.

Do we intend to deport non-natives en masse? Do we want to take your homes and destroy your infrastructure? Do we expect you to learn our languages and practice our cultures and religions?

The answer is no.

We do not intend to do to you what so many of your grandfathers and great-grandfathers so readily did to us. We do not want you to leave and we do not expect you to mold yourself to our standards.

Decolonization is not a matter of citizenship, it is rather a matter of jurisdiction and respect for this land and those who have been stewards to it since time immemorial.

When we speak of decolonization we speak of treaties broken and territories restored. We speak not of generations past, but those to come and the world that they will inherit.

When we protect the land, we are met with militarized police. When we protect the water, we are met with militarized police. When we pray in the streets, we are again met by militarized police.

As a matter of fact- we are the number one most likely group in terms of percentage to be shot and killed by police forces nationwide (at a rate of ten times the national average). And if we ignore colonial borders and acknowledge our “Hispanic” brothers and sisters as indigenous, we make up 32.6% of incarcerated individuals within these so-called “United States”.

Indigenous women are most likely to be victims of sexual assault and over 90% already have or will within their lifetime- that figure is closer to 96% in Seattle.

Our religions were illegal until 1978 on our own land. We are the only people whose languages were ever outlawed, and that lasted until 1990. We are the only racial demographic required to report blood quantum and require registration – which are concepts otherwise only relevant when discussing dogs.

Many of our people on reservations are expected to obey certain federal laws, yet still don’t have the right to vote on them.

There are many tribes throughout Cascadia and this continent who have been displaced by colonial encroachment. Many who have been pushed to the smallest, most meager portions of their territories and even some who have been allotted none of theirs (see the Cascadia Department of Bioregion website for a detailed report on that subject).

There are also many tribal groups who have relocated to Seattle, be it their choice or not. In my family’s case and that of many others, people were relocated forcefully in government attempts to urbanize and white-wash indigenous people.

Here in Cascadia, when our Indian Health Board requests supplies for a pandemic, they are sent body bags instead. When our elders walk in groups, they are corralled like cattle and pushed to the ground or attacked by police for trying to use a crosswalk- while our youth are arrested for trying to protect them.

People leave comments about how they “would have run us over” on the Associated Press’ bullshit statement that spins a protest turned beat down in the Seattle Police Department’s benefit yet again – yet Cascadia is such a “liberal region”.

Here in Cascadia, white kids are given “Indian names” at camp and taught to do things like “the Indians used to” while native children struggle to reconnect with the cultures that were stolen from them and elders do their best to keep them alive despite it all. Here in Cascadia folks give performative land acknowledgements at high schools on islands with white populations, but don’t acknowledge the fact that there isn’t anyone left there to be acknowledged and that our problems were not left in some nostalgic past.

Here in Cascadia, Seattle Police kill innocent Indians and get transferred to other departments instead of being charged for the murders that they commit.

Here in Cascadia, there is a lot of work to be done where our environment is concerned as well. British Columbia is being clear cut, 36 pipeline operators poison the land and water with over 45,000 miles of pipeline (both natural gas and fossil fuel) in Washington alone. Energy Transfer is still trying to push a pipeline through unceded Wet’suwet’en land in British Columbia. Nuclear plants sit like time bombs along the rivers and the mills beside them pollute the air. Dams have driven our Salmon populations to the brink and bees are dying left and right. A Naval base pollutes the Salish Sea and a military base scares our region’s native birds with their incessant flight drills. It seems MBTA laws regarding distance from known nest sites don’t apply to Military choppers.

We have a long standing history of Red Power action in Cascadia. From the Franks, Bridges and Mills families at Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually, who stood (and still stand) for the fishing rights of indigenous tribes, to Juan Jose Bocagenegra, who worked with others to establish the El Centro school on Beacon Hill. Ramona Bennett of the Puyallup has been instrumental in these movements and continues to fight to this day. She will have her Holocaust museum before she rests. Robert Free taught me that peaceful protest means little if we are not at the same time prepared to fight back if necessary. Hank Adams was a professor among American Indians, and kept these stories so that all of us could understand and continue this work.

Rick Williams continues to preach peace in the face of the violence all around him, despite the fact that a police officer named Ian Burke murdered his brother John.

So many have fought in these so called ‘Indian Wars’ which are the reality in which we live–yet seem a dream of a far off past to those who it does not affect. Here in Cascadia and beyond, we walk in prayer that there will be an Earth for our grandchildren to inhabit.

When we speak of decolonization, we speak of respect for a land and its people- and of a trust in their ability to protect and restore this bioregion for all of us who inhabit and enjoy it.

Jack DeVore is a photographer and writer living on Vashon Island. Follow his work #wetheindigenous and @we.the.indigenous on Instagram and Facebook.

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