6- The Ecology of Decolonization – (Re)weaving Lands and Cultures

By Muck

Decolonization is means and end: to take on its labor is to trace the plait of us and our lands, following our becoming with our environments. Colonization unthreads our art into its image. In decolonizing, we must know from how we are woven how to (re)weave, how we create ecological arts through land and culture, how we live our stories and histories. To decolonize is to overcome our anxieties of alienation and authenticity, aid our peer decolonizers, and oust the colonizers from our lands and minds. To decolonize is to (re)form land culture, our knowledges and heritages as they arise from our lands. While I use my own Filipino heritage as an example, we are to weave decolonized ecologies everywhere, from Unist’ot’en to L’eau est la vie and outwards.

The weave of ecology between land and culture encompasses entire bodies of knowledge ranging from botany and agriculture, to myth and history, to language, and results from generations of intimation with our lands. Some of my culture’s discrete artifacts hint at the connection. Filipino adobo, meat marinaded and boiled in soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns, and garlic, is theorized to have come from the ingredients’ widespread occurrence through the Philippine Islands, and because its acidity ensures safe storage at high ambient temperatures and humidity. The etymology of the Filipino dance form tinikling suggests imitation of the tikling bird in the dancers’ skips over bamboo sticks.

The knowledges, traditions, and methodologies we form surrounding our lands are disrupted by colonization, replaced with an industrialized, commodified abstraction of land. How so? In my culture’s history, colonization has changed the names of our foods, our lineages, and our lands, pushing peoples together under an imagined “Philippine” identity. Colonizers have committed genocide of peoples and lands, leaving behind landscapes of coconut palms and concrete. Colonizers engender internal strife that forces us to leave behind our homes for their empires, whether foreign or on our soil. Colonization has tied us to the market, an abstraction both land-ful and placeless, everywhere and nowhere but in empire. Colonization births us in foreign lands and paradigms, neutering our own diverse knowledges. This is the colonization ecology that controls our lands, movements, and thoughts.

What is the ecology of decolonization? It involves (re)formation of our relationship with land, implicates both the physical ousting of capitalism, colonialism, and their bodies and infrastructure, but also the mental ousting of colonialism. Without colonizers’ discipline, without pipelines and “explorers” on our lands, we are free to move around in our own spaces, explore ourselves and our surroundings, the physical framework of our cultures. The Wet’suwet’en and Lakota wars against TransCanada and the State are two examples of the importance of the physical fight. But we have to allow ourselves the mental freedom to explore and build, an equally daunting, if not more insidious, task.

Our positive project of mental decolonization begins with history. First we look to our roots and understand the relationship with land that produced knowledges like cuisines and languages from land. This involves (re)constructing land knowledges and setting up the conditions of their application via land (re)claiming, dependency, and ecological immediacy. Reviving pre-colonial history is not decolonization ecology’s goal – in studying history we study ways of moving forward by building on our heritage. We can choose to integrate the languages and ways of knowing our ancestors spoke alongside the ways of knowing we employ now. We can build knowledges of our lands as they exist today. We change with our lands and times.

What about settlers like me, brought to or born in lands we settle upon? What relationship do we have with land, removed from our roots? We consider the very deconstruction, though not the elimination, of the notion of roots. Imbued in the latter is the concept of authenticity, an idealized past or origin invoked to measure our “purity” relative to the effects under colonialism. Anticolonial theorists like Frantz Fanon or Ngugi wa Thiong’o have suggested reviving traditions and languages, possibly even repatriation, in rebuilding cultural myth and identity.

I reject authenticity as a tool used by oppressors to invalidate our histories and integrate us further into our colonizers’ culture. I reject the idea of returning to roots because there is no going back, only going forward. Just as I’ve said above, we choose our futures. Using willows or using aspirin, speaking English or speaking Lushootseed, living in the United States or the Philippines, what’s key in mental decolonization is understanding and employing the same processes that accorded our ancestors their knowledge, deciding our own directions, redeveloping agencies colonizers have deaccorded us.

But how do we build an anticolonial relationship upon settled lands? I’ve settled stolen Seminole and Coast Salish lands, lands that despite my high affinities, I will not call home. Yet my ancestors’ homelands are foreign to me. L’eau est la vie has similar circumstances, expelling Energy Transfer Partners from gulf Louisiana where the pipeline will pollute the waters of both poor black folk, settlers, and the United Houma Nation. It’s hard to argue against the anticolonial character of such an action, but what relationship with land should we as non-colonizing settlers of indigenous lands choose to foster? What are we to do?

We create decolonized spaces for the colonized. We take back land bases from our colonizers and free them for the indigenous folk of those lands, create refuges for those escaping colonialism in their home lands (or elsewhere). We fight not only against the pipelines on the Pacific Coast, the Gulf, the Plains, Appalachia, but also against walls, police, and industrialization. Such a relationship is an overtly political-analytical ideology of land, creating a new type of culture that’s anticolonial but also a product of a non-indigenous relationship with land. We are to be stewards (but not saviors) to the peoples and lands we settle upon, we are allowed to build our own knowledges of a land (we are allowed to feel seasons, for example) but the land will not be ours.

Why take on decolonization? Spectators try rationalizing anticolonialism with theory about cultural diversity. This understanding is hierarchical: such progressivist discourse subjects us to the Western gaze of cultural preservation, like a bird redesignated as threatened instead of endangered. I would say that one would have to understand decolonization as if an insider, but there’s no hope for that project. I write for decolonizers to uphold their unique knowledges of their own anticolonial struggles, their relationships with their lands, to talk not as if to others about their culture, but to talk in living our culture and our lands. Our liberation narrative dictates that we decolonize all cultures and lands, but we also decolonize our own.

Do we have an end in discussing a decolonization ecology? Our own (re)formation. Ousting the colonizers and their constructed worlds begets us the unbridled energy of agency and self-determination; it allows us imagination, new states-of-being to explore, and the foreground of our land bases. The land relationship coevolves with these decolonized realities. We can develop and explore our knowledges and methods of the land outside of exploitative industrial language. We can relate with our fellow decolonizers and share our cultures and becomings in the anticolonial war. We can know our give-and-takes with our lands, the more we depend on what we can see and live. We are no less of peoples now than we were or will be – our potentials, however, will be fully realized in a decolonized ecology.