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Decolonizing Ourselves

“Historically and to the present, we remain obsessed with solving the Indian problem, even as we deflect attention from the settler problem. . . As a settler ally, I must continuously confront the colonizer-perpetuator within myself, interrogating my own position as a beneficiary of colonial injustice.” - Paulette Regan in Unsettling the Settler Within (2010)

As I work to lead the Riverton Peace Mission, I need to stop at each step and re-examine what we are doing so that we do not fall within the same trap that Regan so wisely warns in the concluding chapter of her book. The western way is to see a problem and immediately want to fix it and invariably we only continue the colonizing process and pat ourselves on the back for having helped when we have not or for having tried but blaming others for the failure. No one is healed. White supremacy continues. Sovereignty is ignored. External and lateral violence continues.

Last week, members of Catholic Charities of the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne invited me to a listening session on Zoom about the problems on the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) that Catholic Charities may consider addressing. Natives spoke about problems like overcrowded housing, how hard COVID-19 has hit the WRIR, addictions, hunger, lack of economic diversity and jobs, children being removed from their homes instead of keeping families together, domestic violence, and sexual assault.

The temptation is to try to fix these problems without understanding that these are not Indian problems, but colonizing problems. Fortunately, Millie Friday, Northern Arapaho who directs a youth prevention program, let the listeners know that they do not want anyone to come and save them. She talked about the 10,400 Northern Arapaho, the 5,400 Eastern Shoshone, and Native Americans on the WRIR who belong to neither tribe. She talked about the youth on the WRIR, 80% being under 25 years of age. She highlighted good things happening on the WRIR, like increasing food sustainability and healing programs.

I commend the Bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Steven Biegler, for taking time to listen and his admitting that although he grew up on a reservation in South Dakota, he knows little about the history and that he wants to learn the history, values, and spirituality of the WRIR. A consultant in attendance cautioned not to look at problems but at the assets. This is the beginning of a journey that I hope continues and that seeks to decolonize what was the past relationship of the church to Indigenous people. I expressed my hope for a reconciliation and healing process and our willingness to partner in that effort.

The Riverton Peace Mission cannot make white settlers and colonizers change, but we can enable the ability and opportunity to change. We can learn ourselves; we can educate others.


Thanks to those writing to Anderson Antelope, Jr., who is in prison and whose father was killed at Walmart in 2019. If any of you have questions about funds for seeking Justice for Andy, feel free to contact me.

Thanks to those who are sending us funds toward hiring an organizer for the Riverton Peace Mission. Checks may be mailed to PO Box 255, Riverton WY 82501.

Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Be humble. Do justice.

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