This is the one question most commonly asked by the world’s Indigenous peoples to people of European heritage. For the large majority of us in America, Europe, and elsewhere, the honest answer beyond simple genealogy is, “I don’t know.”
Unfortunately, this not knowing is part of a deep disconnection that has serious consequences for ourselves and others.
Traditional Indigenous people understand this unknowing lies at the heart of the political, social, and economic systems that have caused, and continue to cause, colonization and genocide of their people as well as destruction of life on Mother Earth.
At the personal level, the lack of being rooted in a culture of place brings spiritual disconnection, shallow sense of self, and historical trauma from the lost ancestral roots and lost ways of life that shaped our physical, emotional, and spiritual health for tens of thousands of years.
People of European heritage are often called hungry ghosts because we don’t know ourselves. This trauma of disconnection is profound, causing us to constantly grab for anything of spiritual meaning – even if it does not belong to us. This taking leads to cultural theft and appropriation, spiritual materialism, and the silencing of authentic native voices. Worse, we spread this dysfunction to others, including people of color, through the dominance of Western cultural values.
Indigenous people are asking us to heal ourselves, so we can redevelop a deeply rooted cultural identity that brings about respect for ourselves and our relatives on Mother Earth. This healing also builds the understanding necessary for us to listen with compassion and speak with integrity to Indigenous people as we begin the painful conversations necessary to grow healing between people. We must take responsibility for our past, so we can create a healthy future for all people.
In summary, decolonization is a powerful process that allows us to:
- Re-connnect with the places we come from, and the ways of life that shaped our ancestor’s experience and continue to live hidden within ourselves;
- Reawaken the identity of who we are in a line of people from ancient ancestors to future generations;
- Restore a sacred way of life through relationships with the animals, plants, and other living relatives who made our lives possible;
- Become more effective allies in anti-racist action, solidarity work, and resistance struggles of Indigenous people and other people of color;
- Make healing of historic traumas possible for ourselves, and for Indigenous people who suffer from colonization and genocide.