This spring in a Yale pre-frosh political discourse group chat, a chat which I usually keep on mute, an argument broke regarding the foundations of the United States of America. As an Indigenous person, this merges the political with the personal for me. That same “foundation” that many white centrists praise is the attempted removal and genocide of my Cherokee people. When I brought this up, my non-Black and non-Indigenous peers told me I was being too emotional and that I needed to look at things from a “factual standpoint.” I’m used to politically-engaged white people valuing neural statistics over Indigenous lives, and while it hurt seeing my own classmates follow suit, I can’t say I was surprised.
Shrugging off their insensitivity, I pressed on and introduced the subject of decolonization. Immediately, I realized that no one knew what decolonization really was. Many were under the assumption that it meant kicking out everybody except for Native people. Some even perverted it to mean creating an ethnostate. As I tried to explain what decolonization truly is — returning Land and water rights back to those capable of stewarding the land: Indigenous folks — I found myself watering down its definition in order to make my non-Indigenous peers more comfortable. It was disheartening to see people so wholly disagree with #LandBack that I tried to soften my language in order to win their approval. But even after I gave them the diet definition of decolonization, they were outwardly against it.
Since arriving at Yale and connecting with other Indigenous students, I’ve sadly come to terms with the fact that Yale students will meet us with hostility when we try to advocate for Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Even though most Yale students are relatively liberal, many of them are wealthy first and foremost, and any perceived threat to their constant subjugation of the land — such as the #LandBack movement — frightens them. Quickly, I understood I must be even fiercer in my defense of my Indigenous peers and communities. I don’t have to sugarcoat our demands; instead, I need to define them outright.
Decolonization is not a metaphor. It is not a synonym for simply improving our society. It is not reformation. It is not to be co-opted by settlers and turned into a buzzword for their Twitter feed. It is not capitalistic. It is not claiming that “voting is sacred.” It is not participating and upholding settler colonial systems, and it is certainly not die-hard patriotism for a country born from our ancestors’ trauma.
Decolonization means land back in every sense. Decolonization means physically returning the land to the Indigenous and Black people from whom it was stolen. It is putting our bodies between the land and a pipeline. It is lifting up our Afro-Indigenous brothers and sisters, showing up for them at #BlackLivesMatter protests and physically protecting them from the violent threat of police. It is material reparations for the descendants of those enslaved and those removed. It is tearing down every racist, capitalist system in place — non-sustainable systems which aim to destroy the Land and our human rights to clean air, water, shelter and food — and starting from scratch. Decolonization is revolutionary. Decolonization is a revolution.
Current governmental, educational and economic institutions stand to oppress Black and Indigenous people. Institutions like Yale were not built for us, but rather built to keep our communities subjugated. In order to truly decolonize, we must recognize this and work to make Yale a community-led center that uplifts Black and Indigenous voices and histories. Offering a few classes on these subjects isn’t enough — we must demand that Yale prioritizes our freedom over their capital. Both Yale and Yalies should show concrete support to student groups such as the Association of Native Americans at Yale, Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, Black Student Alliance at Yale and the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project in their efforts to back Black and Indigenous people and end state-sanctioned violence. Holding Yale accountable for their colonial history is the first step in the larger effort towards liberation for Black and Indigenous people. Decolonization is not a metaphor, and we can make a tangible difference here at our own school if we put in the work.
LEX SCHULTZ is a first year in Saybrook College. They are the co-bonding coordinator for ANAAY. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.