Raquel Luna –

Our highly globalized world ails of overlapping systemic crisis. For a start, inequality, poverty, polarization, and racism are on the rise. Inflation, civil unrest and the risk of war expands. Both are fuelled by the accelerating environmental crisis of climate, biodiversity, ocean, and soil,[1] product of the ever expanding extractivism. Pollution and the destruction of the environment, in the name of development[2], have expanded so much that the Earth’s ability to sustain life as we know it is put into question. Scientific report after scientific report warns: we are crossing the Earth’s planetary limits. Science agrees on one thing: serious impacts are now unavoidable. But they can’t predict at what point the positive climate feedback loops will be triggered and what will be unleashed. We are crossing unknown territory and there exists an urgent need for action.

And there is action. Today around 80% of the biodiversity left on the planet are protected by Indigenous people[3] even though they represent only around 5% of the world population. This is not a coincidence. These Indigenous peoples live in equilibrium with nature and allow biodiversity to thrive. Their struggle for autonomy and self-determination is intertwined with the faith of the ecosystems they protect (most of biodiversity on Earth). The latest IPCC[4] report, the AR6, recognizes for the first time the need of the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge to provide solutions to the climate crisis. Science is catching up. The way to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, states the AR6, is through equity, social, and climate justice. In that same report, for the first time, the IPCC recognizes colonialism as an historic and on going driver of the climate crisis.

Therefore we focus mainly on certain voices of the global South, particularly arising by and with Indigenous peoples: those on the frontlines to protect life. Their call to decolonize argues that the overlapping crises are caused by the globalized social, political and economic system that developed from modern colonization and is today capitalism. At large, they consider that capitalism is a death sentence to life:

„When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.“

– attributed to Alanis Obomsawin[5] (1972) and inspired in a native American saying.

But let us start from the beginning.


A brief story of modern colonization and coloniality

For the global South, the process of modern colonization is understood as the systematic objectification and exploitation of all “Other” (nature and entire civilizations). It started in the XV century with what the European settlers, crowns and Church would call the conquest of uninhabited land, terra nullius[6], in the “New World” (the continent called America today). It later expanded to Africa and Asia in the XVIII and XIX centuries.

For Indigenous people (men, women, and children), modern colonization meant forced displacement, rape, slavery, exploitation, disease, and/or extermination at different stages and under different circumstances. According to Virgilio Enriques[7], the process of colonization involved five stages. First, the denial and withdrawal of culture, value, or merit of the Indigenous peoples. Second, the destruction and eradication of tablets, art, temples, sacred sites, and ecosystems of the Indigenous peoples (led by the colonizers and sometimes with the participation of Indigenous peoples). Third, the denigration, belittlement, and insult of any continuing practice of the Indigenous peoples through the newly established system and its institutions. Fourth, the surface accommodation and tokenism of whatever is left of the Indigenous culture as an exhibition of the colonial tolerance and humanity in front of the ignorance of the Indigenous peoples. Fifth, the transformation and exploitation of any rests of the indigenous culture into the dominant colonial society. The different civilizations were homogenized as one (for example, in the “new” continent, from the Patagonia to Alaska, everyone was an “indian”) and what is left of their knowledge, history, and culture was inferiorized or minotirized by calling it folkloric, ethnic and/or exotic compared to “proper” Western knowledge, education and history.

The thought of the Enlightenment distilled the logic that allowed the objectification and exploitation of all the “unsettling”[8] Other: the (European and enlightened) man was superior to everything else. The enlightened man was defined as a subject with volition and rationality, unlike the rest of existence. Furthermore, he was the expression of evolution. The “mission” of the enlightened was to “discover” and exploit through useful and practical knowledge. Anything touching the land, the air, and the water became an object of exploitation including fellow humans, according to Vandana Shiva[9]. The colonizer’s actions (and crimes) remained moral through the imperative to bring modernity (and later, progress or development). Nevertheless, the primary motivation was that of “gold, God, and glory”[10].

Science and research played a critical role for the colonization, according to Linda Tuhiwai Smith.[11] Just as plants and animals were classified, “science” pursued to classify Indigenous peoples by their physical features (skin color, brain size, sex, among others) compared to the white European man (which persists today in the social system of white supremacy). In the heated debates that questioned whether the conquered were beasts, semi-bests or humans, “scientific research” developed the notion of races to create a hierarchy of humanity. The ideology of race and racism was central to colonialism as a mechanism of control to maintain colonial relations, according to Frantz Fanon[12]. It justified the violence. “Science” provided the arguments to treat Indigenous peoples as inherently inferior and objects of study, not subjects. This mental and social construct of race (and parallely of inferior sex) has long been proven scientifically baseless, invalid.

Modern colonization ended with the political independence of most former European colonies in the second half of the XX century, but coloniality survived, according to Nelson Maldonado-Torres[13]. He affirms that coloniality are the “long-standing patterns of power” created during the colonization that persist today.

In other words, coloniality defines “culture, labour, intersubjectivity relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. (…) It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience.” He concludes that we, as “modern subjects”, breathe coloniality “all the time and every day”.

According to Nelson Maldonado-Torres, the central forms of domination and subordination of colonization extended across the world as a model of power to become the basis of the modern identity: “framed by global capitalism and a domination system based on the idea of race”. Both tied together.

The call to decolonize captures the larger existential crisis beyond the climate crisis.

Alanis Obomsawin | Kat Baulu, Wikimedia Commons
Linda Tuhiwai Smith | Royal Society Te Apārangi, Wikimedia commons
Nelson Maldonado-Torres












The call to decolonize

Vandana Shiva | CC BY 2.0 – greensefa in flickr.com

The call to decolonize arises with diverse Indigenous struggles for justice, self-determination and autonomy in America, Africa, Asia, and Middle East and extends to activists and academics of the global South in response to colonization, and the coloniality embedded in capitalism. Contrary to the unique thought of coloniality, to decolonize is to allow diversity, a pluriverse. There exists no one sole “right” or “unique” way to live or to decolonize. The Zapatistas[14] advocate for a world in which many worlds coexist. For Vandana Shiva, diversity is at the core of life sustaining systems: from biodiversity (seeds in particular and living beings in general) in nature to the diversity of human identities embedded to their landscape, weather, and features around them.[15] Vandana Shiva clarifies that this notion of diversity is not opposed to our universal identity and capacity of cooperation as part of the Earth family for we are interdependant. The call to decolonize acknowledges that the global North’s capitalism with a unique right way of being destroys life.

One way to describe what it means to decolonize is through Pōkā Laenui’s[16] process of decolonisation. He describes five stages: first, the rediscovery and dignified recovery of the indigenous identity (history, culture, language, customs) that was oppressed, denied and filled by the colonial power with concepts of inferiority.[17] This stage is foundational and it involves questioning out of desperation, curiosity, accident, or coincidence.

Second, the next stage is the natural emergence of mourning or grief due to the losses and violence experienced, which involves acknowledging the intergenerational trauma carried by Indigenous peoples. It can manifest as frustration and anger.[18] Vandana Shiva and Bayo Akomolafe[19] consider that grief (personal and collective) as moments of darkness are imperative to bring new voices, insights and commitment. Shiva and Akomolafe consider the need for endless hope in capitalist societies (preventing grief) is a colonial notion.

The third stage is dreaming of possibilities in terms of the Indigenous peoples’ cultures, aspirations for the future, and structures and social order. Dreaming does not mean simply replacing the colonizers for Indigenous peoples in the current structures and positions. It involves daring to create a system with inclusive and just institutions and roles independent of the colonial ones. Dreaming means to venture to create ways of life aimed at self-determination and autonomy.

The fourth stage is the development of consensual commitment. It means putting together the voices of Indigenous people agreeing on a common direction to move forward.

The fifth stage is action and it is normally driven by the previous stage. It is voluntary, conscious, and intentional. The actions to decolonize are varied and diverse. From a call to reason to breaking the law, if the law is unjust.

In all, this is one experience of the process of decolonisation and it serves just as a reference for there is no one right way or method to decolonise. Decolonisation is an epistemic liberation, “a way of being, thinking, doing, and becoming in the world” [20].

Occupy Wall Street, November 15, 2011 | CC BY 3.0 – David Shankbone

The call to decolonize extends to non-Indigenous people and those in between, according to Nikki Sanchez[21]. Let us remember, this is a call to break from the current paradigm. It does not aim for abstract universality; but the contrary, the resurgence of local identities, cosmovisions, and self-determination. According to Shiva, the answer lies in the small, like the seeds. Many decolonial views argue for the emergence of small local solutions, local self-determination, and local resilience based on cooperation. Growth is conceived as the growth of the networks of life (the collective biodiversity).[22]

The call to decolonise is not meant as a return to the innocent pure “native” but to remember our relationship of stewardship with the Earth instead of that of saviours or masters. According to Édouard Glissant[23], we need each other’s memory not as charity or compassion, but as the very condition for the survival of the world.

In the global North, the call to decolonize starts with listening to the voices of what Fanon called “the Wretched of the Earth”[24] which are largely people in the geographic global South and it extends to the global South in the geographical global North and to nature. Their memory is that of stewardship with the Earth but also the acknowledgment of the destruction today: the desolated and expanding sacrifice zones that will reach us. The call to decolonize is to join their resistance. Otherwise, their demise will inevitably be ours.

“If you have come to help me you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  

-Aboriginal rights activists from Queensland, Australia in the 1970s.



[1] Just this year we experienced the accelerating melting of glaciers, permafrost thawing, flashfloods, longer heatwaves with its droughts and wildfires, and the acidification of the oceans, among other events.

[2] There are many attempts to redefine if not abandon the concept of development.

[3] https://unfccc.int/news/how-indigenous-peoples-enrich-climate-action

[4] IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is a United Nations’ intergovernmental body and an internationally accepted authority on climate change. The AR6 represents the most ambitious and far reaching report combining scientific and governmental efforts.

[5] Abenaki American Canadian filmmaker, singer, artist, and activist for the causes of Indigenous peoples.

[6] Nobody’s land. ((territoire sans maître, Niemansland)

[7] Native son of the Philippines, professor of psychology, advocate for the integrity of Native wisdoms. Source: Hawaii Public Radio program, “A Second Glance” April 17, 1993.

[8] According to Walter Mignolo, Argentinian semiotician, one of the founders of the modernity/coloniality critical school of thought.

[9] Indian environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, ecofeminist and anti-globalisation author.

[10] Gold meaning material gain, God meaning the militant crusades and missionary traditions of Christianity, and glory meaning the competition between monarchies. “Gold, God, and Glory .” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Sep. 2022.

[11] Māori professor of indigenous education and environmental activist. Source: “Decolonizing methodologies : research and indigenous peoples ».

[12] Renowned political philosopher (anticolonial and antiracist) and psychiatrist from Martinique.

[13] Philosopher native to Puerto Rico. All references have as source: “On the coloniality of Being: Contributions to the development of a concept”, 2007.

[14] The Zapatistas are largely Indigenous people, Mayas in the south of Mexico who have gained autonomy. They self-organise and self-govern for the last two decades.

[15] “Earth democracy: justice, sustainability and peace”

[16] Native from Hawai`. “Processes of Decolonization, in Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision”, edited by Marie Battiste, pp.150-159. 2000 UBC Press.

[17] A latent risk is that the stage rediscovery and recovery of the indigenous identity becomes that of transformation/exploitation, the fifth stage of colonization, by Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. It happens when the form is elevated over the substance by maintaining the colonial perspective.

[18] Indigenous peoples can get trapped in this stage with a sense of justified anger (and build a career of it) while perpetuating the coloniality of the system.

[19] Philosopher, writer, activist, professor of psychology, and executive director of the Emergence Network.born in Nigeria from a Yoruba family.

[20] Walter Mignolo.

[21] Pipil and Irish decolonial and environmental educator. Source  TEDx SFU Talk, Decolonisation is for everyone,

[22] Vandana Shiva.

[23] Martinican poet, novelist and theorist.

[24] Les Damnés de la terre (1961)


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