Decolonize To Liberate/definitions

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[Back to the main Decolonize to Liberate Working Group page]

What does "decolonize" mean?  (No it doesn't mean turning back the clock or sending the Europeans back to Europe.)
There are many definitions and ways to explain it.  We decided to start this page to gather definitions and explanations in an effort to elucidate the meaning of "decolonize"...

Assembled by the Decolonize to Liberate Working Group (OB)  (go back to the group page)



Decolonization is a dramatic reimagining of relationships with land, people and the state. Much of this requires study. It requires conversation. It is a practice; it is an unlearning.

-Syed Hussan, a Toronto-based activist,

Decolonize is a universal message to all people of the earth to reconnect to their ancestry, the earth, to their traditional medicines and knowledge, and to a global consciousness that we are all related. Everyone on the planet has indigenous roots to somewhere.

-Lavie Raven, Decolonize Oakland - one of the ten contributors to the large scale "Decolonize" mural that is 200 feet wide and 30 feet high (see pictures/story, here)


We must decolonize our minds and decolonize the “Occupy” movement, meaning we must realize the historical context of this movement, and examine the underlying assumptions on which we base our understandings of the world and possible solutions we will chose to manifest, lest we recreate a new society based on same old systems of deeply ingrained oppression and systematic violence. As explained in the #decolonizewallstreet flier, “colonization continues to this day, with indigenous communities across the globe still under attack. To dismantle corporate greed and imagine a different world we must make connections between the histories of colonialism, genocide, capitalism, human trafficking, globalization, racism, imperialism, ecocide, patriarchy and so much more.” This is what is meant by “Decolonizing” our minds and our movement. We must recognize and cast off the colonialist mindset.

-Marty Dagoberto, Occupy/Decolonize Boston


Decolonizing is about the culture we’ve allowed to calcify around us. A culture that holds private property as sacrosanct above public welfare. Where an individual’s greatness is put above the community, no matter how much wealth that individual amasses, no matter how much the community suffers. It’s the culture that Christopher Columbus brought with him, and every great man who came after him supported, built up, and used to increase their personal gain at the expense of the meek, the poor, the brown, black, and every female regardless of color or creed. 

- Eric Zimmerman, Occupy/Decolonize Wall Street


Decolonization is the process whereby we create the conditions in which we want to live and the social relations we wish to have. We have to commit ourselves to supplanting the colonial logic of the state itself. Almost a hundred years ago, German anarchist Gustav Landauer wrote: “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships.” Decolonization requires us to exercise our sovereignties differently and to reconfigure our communities based on shared experiences, ideals and visions. Almost all Indigenous formulations of sovereignty – such as the Two Row Wampum agreement of peace, friendship and respect between the Haudenosaunee nations and settlers – are premised on revolutionary notions of respectful coexistence and stewardship of the land, which goes far beyond any Western liberal democratic ideal.

Black-Cherokee writer Zainab Amadahy uses the term “relationship framework” to describe how our activism should be grounded. “Understanding the world through a Relationship Framework … we don’t see ourselves, our communities, or our species as inherently superior to any other, but rather see our roles and responsibilities to each other as inherent to enjoying our life experiences,” says Amadahy. From Turtle Island to Palestine, striving toward decolonization and walking together toward transformation requires us to challenge a dehumanizing social organization that perpetuates our isolation from each other and normalizes a lack of responsibility to one another and the Earth.

-Harsha Walia, Briarpatch Magazine

It will look different for men than women. It will look different for those who are indigenous than for those who are not… But there are some common features. Decolonization is the process of breaking your identity with and loyalty to this culture—industrial capitalism, and more broadly civilization—and remembering your identification with and loyalty to the real physical world, including the land where you live. It means re- examining premises and stories the dominant culture handed down to you. It means seeing the harm the dominant culture does to other cultures, and to the planet… It means recognizing that the luxuries of the dominant culture do not come free, but rather are paid for by other humans, by nonhumans, by the whole world. It means recognizing that we do not live in a functioning democracy, but rather in a corporate plutocracy, a government by, for, and of corporations. Decolonization means internalizing the implications of that. It means recognizing that neither technological progress nor increased GNP is good for the planet. Decolonization means internalizing the implications of the fact that the dominant culture is killing the planet. It means determining that we will stop this culture from doing that. It means determining that we will not fail. It means remembering that the real world is more important than this social system: without a real world you don’t have a social system, any social system. All of this is the barest beginnings of decolonizing. It is internal work that doesn’t accomplish anything in the real world, but makes all further steps more likely, more feasible, and in many ways more strictly technical.

-Derrick Jenson, Forward from “Unsettling Ourselves.”


Decolonization means connecting to the land and each other by growing and sharing food.  It means connecting to the traditions of our ancestors and creating new forms of authentic human connection.  Decolonization is a practice of healing from violence in forms such as slavery, occupation, and poverty.  It is about raising our children to find beauty and meaning in their cultural identities.  Decolonization means telling stories that emancipate our minds and dreams.  It is education as a practice of freedom, not a lucrative career path. -Decolonize Oakland