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 Understanding Decolonization 

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First... what is colonization?

Colonization is an on-going process in which the central power system dominates and colonial cultures and institutions replace indigenous cultures and institutions. They do this by using indigenous peoples, land and resources for the benefit of the colonialists. Across the world, our struggles against poverty, violence, addiction, suicide, climate change, and poor health are a direct result of colonization, which remains strong worldwide.

Check out this National Geographic article that breaks down the history of colonialism even further.

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There are 5 steps to colonization:

Virgilio Enriques, an author, advocate for the Integrity of Native Wisdoms, and a professor emeritus of social psychology at the University of the Philippines presents these observations: 

Step 1: 

Denial &


Step 2: 



Step 3: 


Belittlement/ Insult

Step 4: 

Surface Accommodation/


Step 5: 

Transformation/ Exploitation

When a colonial people first come upon an Indigenous people, the colonial strangers will immediately look upon the Indigenous people as lacking culture or moral values and having nothing of any social value. Thus, the colonial people deny the very existence of a culture of any merit among the Indigenous people. 

Indigenous people themselves, especially those who form relationships with the newcomers begin to withdraw from their own cultural practices and may even join in the ridicule and denial of the existence of their culture. They become quickly converted and later lead or directly contribute to the criticism of Indigenous societies.

The colonists begin to take bolder actions, physically destroying and attempting to eradicate all physical representations of the symbols of indigenous cultures. 

This may include burning their art, their god images, destroying their sacred sites, etc.

As colonization starts to take a stronger hold, the new systems created within Indigenous societies, such as churches, colonial-style health delivery systems, and new legal institutions, will all join to denigrate, belittle and insult any continuing practices of the Indigenous culture.

In this stage of colonization, whatever remnants of culture that have survived the onslaught of the earlier steps are given surface accommodation. They are "tolerated" as an exhibition of the colonial regime's sense of leniency to the continuing ignorance of the Natives. These practices are referred to as "folkloric", meaning to show respect to the old folks and to tradtion. They are given token regard.

The traditional culture that refuses to die or go away is now transformed into the culture of the dominating colonial society. (A Christian church may now use an Indigenous person as a priest, permitting the priest to use the Indigenous language and to incorporate some Indigenous terms and practices within the church's framework of worship.) 

Indigenous art that has survived may gain in popularity and form the basis for economic exploitation, symbols may decorate modern dress, and musical instruments may be incorporated into modern music.

Supporting Indigenous causes within the general colonial structure may become the popular political thing to do, exploiting the culture further. 

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The 5 phases of decolonization:

The following has been adapted from  Poka Laenui's "Processes of Decolonization" in Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision

Phase 1: 


& Recovery

Phase 2: 


Phase 3: 


Phase 4: 


Phase 5: 


This phase ultimately sets the foundation for the eventual decolonization of a society. People who have undergone colonization are inevitably suffering from concepts of inferiority in relation to their historical cultural/ social background. A person or society may enter the stage of rediscovery and recovery for many different accident, to escape, or because of fate.

This phase of rediscovering one's history and recovering one's culture, language, identity, and so on is fundamental to the movement for decolo­nization. It forms the basis for the steps to follow. 

One of the dangers in this phase is the elevation of form over substance, of dealing with a traditional culture from the perspective of a foreign cul­ture. Indigenous people themselves can abuse their own culture, especially when they have been so long and completely separated from the practice or appreciation of their traditional culture, which they now see and treat from the perspective of the foreign one.

Mourning is a time when a people are able to express their victimization, grief and sorrow. This is an essential phase of heal­ing. 

This phase may also be expressed in great anger and a lashing out at all symbols of the colonizer. A sense of justified violence, either in words or in actions, can lull some into remaining in this phase, milking every advan­tage of the innocence of one's victimization. This abuse of the mourning phase can turn into an attempt to entrench the colonization in order to continue the mourning, the anger, the hatred, and the division among peo­ple. Some people are happy to go no further than mourning, finding suffi­cient satisfaction in long-term grumbling. People can be "stuck in the awfulizing" of their status as victims. Some build careers on it. 

This phase is the most crucial for decolonization. The full panorama of possibilities is expressed, considered through debate, consul­tation, and building dreams on further dreams, which eventually become the flooring for the creation of a new social order. 

It is during this phase that colonized people are able to''explore their own cultures, experience their own aspirations for their future, and con­sider their own structures of government and social order to encompass and express their hopes. 

This phase MUST be allowed to run its full course. If the dreaming is cut short by any action plan or program designed to cre­ate a remedy for the issue at a premature stage, then the result can prove disastrous.  This phase can be likened to the formation of a fetus in a mother's womb. That fetus must be allowed its time to develop and grow to its full potential. To attempt to rush the process, bringing the baby out sooner than his or her natural time, could prove dangerous if not disastrous.

In the process of dreaming, the people will have the opportunity to weigh the voices, be able to wade through the cult of personalities and family his­tories and to release themselves from the shackles of colonial patriotism. They will now be ready for commitment to a single direction in which the society must move.


This phase will culminate in people combining their voices in a clear statement of their desired direction. There is no single "way" or process for a people's expression of commitment. In fact, over time the commitment will become so clear that a formal process becomes merely a pro forma expression of the people's will. 

This phase can be properly taken only upon reaching a consensus of com­mitment in the fourth phase. Otherwise, the action taken cannot truly be said to be the choice of the colonized people. 

The reality of many situtations does not allow for the methodical, patient, time-consuming process of the four earlier phases. When a people are under physical attack, when a people are finding their children torn from their homes for reeducation in colonial societies, when a people are being removed from their traditional lands in droves, action may be called for prior to the society's completion of the dreaming phase. But that kind of responsive action to colonization's onslaught is not the action spoken of here. The responsive action is one for survival. The action called for in the fifth phase of decolonization is not a reactive but a proactive step taken based on consensus of the people . 

Cool, so what is decolonization?

Decolonization is about “cultural, psychological, and economic freedom” for Indigenous people with the goal of achieving Indigenous sovereignty — the right and ability of Indigenous people to practice self-determination over their land, cultures, and political and economic systems. Colonialism is a historical and ongoing global project where settlers continue to occupy land, dictate social, political, and economic systems, and exploit Indigenous people and their resources. It is a global endeavor. *source

*This research has been compiled and presented by Mikaela Williams - 2022

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