Occupy Wall Street: The Game of Colonialism and Further Nationalism to be Decolonized From the “Left”

By Jessica Yee

The “OCCUPY WALL STREET” slogan has gone viral and international now.  From the protests on the streets of WALL STREET in the name of “ending capitalism” – organizers, protestors, and activists have been encouraged to “occupy” different places that symbolize greed and power.  There’s just one problem: THE UNITED STATES IS ALREADY BEING OCCUPIED. THIS IS INDIGENOUS LAND. And it’s been occupied for quite some time now.

I also need to mention that New York City is Haudenosaunee territory and home to many other First Nations. Waiting to see if that’s been mentioned anywhere. (Author’s note: Manhattan “proper” is home to to the Lenape who were defrauded of the island by the Dutch in 1626 – see more from Tequila Sovereign).

Not that I’m surprised that this was a misstep in organizing against Wall Street or really any organizing that happens when the “left” decides that it’s going to “take back America for the people” (which people?!). This is part of a much larger issue, and in fact there is so much nationalistic, patriotic language of imperialism wrapped up in these types of campaigns that it’s no wonder people can’t see the erasure of existence of the First Peoples of THIS territory that happens when we get all high and mighty with the pro-America agendas, and forget our OWN complicity and accountability to the way things are today – not just the corporations and the state.

Let me be clear. I’m not against ending capitalism and I’m not against people organizing to hold big corporations accountable for the extreme damage they are causing.  Yes, we need to end globalization. What I am saying is that I have all kinds of problems when to get to “ending capitalism” we step on other people’s rights – and in this case erode Indigenous rights – to make the point. I’m not saying people did it intentionally but that doesn’t even matter – good intentions are not enough and good intentions obviously can have adverse affects. This is such a played out old record too, walking on other people’s backs to get to a mystical land of equity.  Is it really just and equitable when specific people continue to be oppressed to get there? And it doesn’t have to be done! We don’t need more occupation – we need decolonization and it’s everyone’s responsibility to participate in that because COLONIALISM AFFECTS EVERYONE. EVERYONE! Colonialism also leads to capitalism, globalization, and industrialization. How can we truly end capitalism without ending colonialism? How does doing things in the name of “America” which was created by the imposition of hierarchies of class, race, ability, gender, and sexuality help that?

I can’t get on board with the nationalism of  an “American” (or now “Canadian!”) revolution – I just can’t.  There has been too much genocide and violence for the United States and Canada to be founded and to continue to exist as nation states.  I think John Paul Montano, Anishnaabe writer captured it quite well in his “Open Letter to Occupy Wall Street Activists”:

I hope you would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you – that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land. I had hoped mention would be made of the indigenous nation whose land that is. I had hoped that you would address the centuries-long history that we indigenous peoples of this continent have endured being subject to the countless ‘-isms’ of do-gooders claiming to be building a “more just society,” a “better world,” a “land of freedom” on top of our indigenous societies, on our indigenous lands, while destroying and/or ignoring our ways of life. I had hoped that you would acknowledge that, since you are settlers on indigenous land, you need and want our indigenous consent to your building anything on our land – never mind an entire society.

I will leave you with this new art piece from Erin Konsmo (also pictured above), our fabulous intern at The Native Youth Sexual Health Network she created on “OCCUPY: THE GAME OF COLONIALISM”.  Hopefully you get the picture now.



Posted on October 1, 2011, in Imperialism & Colonialism, Indigenous Struggles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great article. You might be interested in the Victoria, BC event… we’re discussing the legitimacy of using the term ‘occupy’ at our first General Assembly on Monday – http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=223538391040909

  2. I like the article and the authors arrive at a very interesting conclusion. Yes I did smile when it got interesting when mentioning the issue on complicity and accountability. Powerful statements. I would like to interview Enaemaehkiw and Jessica for an Radio interview on the American Indian Airwaves/Coyote Radio show for all of Coastal and Southern California. The Occupy Wall Street people were wondering why people of color where interested (?) in the event much less Native Peoples. Please respond if you would like to be interviewed. You can listen to our past show on KPFK.org, then go to archives. Thank you, Marcus Lopez. email: shalawa2@gmail.com. Phone: 805-969-1076

  3. “Colonialism also leads to capitalism, globalization, and industrialization. How can we truly end capitalism without ending colonialism? ”

    very very true. Anibal Quijano and others talk about the coloniality of power where capitalism=race+greed+gender. I might have gotten this equation a bit wrong but the point is that capitalism is built on a foundation of colonialism, rooted in over 500 years of extractive oppressive imperial economic policy. It is pointless to dismantle capitalism without decolonizing the power structures that inform and support it–imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc.

  4. NYC is not Haudenosaunee territory though. The original inhabitants were the Lenape people who are Algonquian, while the former are Iroquoian. They were enemies for hundreds of years.

  5. @Corey:

    Indeed, Ms. Yee spoke incorrectly, which is interesting because she should know. I myself didn’t notice her slip up. That said, whether NYC is Algonquin or Haudenosaunee doesn’t change the correctness of what she brings up.

    (Clarification: I had a bit of a brain fart when I initially responded to Corey, and for whatever reason thought he was talking about “Manhattan proper.” Please see my comment below this one for clarification on the issue of who NYC belonged to before the settler invasion and about what Ms. Yee said about it.)

  6. This article wasn’t copied correctly – Jessica DID make direct mention of “Manhattan proper” being Lenape territory and linked to Tequila Sovereign’s post on that. She is also referring to the larger NYC area which is indeed Haudenosaunee territory and many other First Nations territory – like she said.

    And let’s not prop up the incorrect stereotypes of First Nations “warring” with each other – it’s not in the same sense of what we see “war” as today and colonization really upped the ante and made a huge impact on how people disagreed.

  7. @John Abrahms

    Actually, the article was copied fully and correctly as it was presented when I saw it on Racialicious five days ago. I did not copy it one paragraph at a time, rather I copied and pasted the article in its entirety all at once. If the bracketed reference to the Lenape and Tequila Sovereign that you mention had been there at the time, it would have been imported as well. Despite the fact that Ms. Yee never referred to “Manhattan proper” (which in my own daft oversight is what I thought Corey above was talking about), but rather to NYC as whole, and did say that NYC was home to many Native nations, if you scroll down on the comments on the Racialicious posting you will notice that people did try to “correct” her. This is what lead to her adding the section in brackets about the Lenanpe. Judging by the number of days ago that Racialicious says those comments were posted (four days ago) they were left the day AFTER I reblogged this. So let’s not put out accusations around who did or did not do this or that correctly. That said, I have now gone back and added in her corrective bracket to clarify the issue.

  1. Pingback: The U.S. Is Already Occupied Territory « Queering the Singularity

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