MLK Tribute
Multicultural Center,
Portland State
Dr. Michael Yellow Bird,
Department of Social Work
Humboldt State University
Arikara Engaged in Ceremonial Mindfulness in Traditional
Earth lodge
Colonialism: a system in
which a one people claim
sovereignty over another
and assert social, political
economic, and spiritual
domination over the
It motivated by beliefs and
values of the colonizer are
superior to those of the
(Not a mainstream topic in Social Work; mainstream
in Indigenous Studies)
Chosen Race
Defiled Race
“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”
The biopolitical and geopolitical
management of people, land, flora,
and fauna with the “domestic”
borders of the imperial nation.
This involves the particularized modes
of control – prisons, minoritizing,
schooling, and policing.
For Indigenous Peoples it is Indian
boarding schools, Federal Indian Law,
Western education, BLM, Bureau of
Indian Affairs, Plenary Power of
Congress, Reservations, Indian Child
Welfare Act, Baby Veronica, and
Forms of Colonialism
(Exploitation colonization): the expropriation of fragments
of Indigenous worlds, animals, plants, and human
beings, extracting them in order to transport them to –
build wealth,
the privilege,
or feed the
appetites of –
the colonizers,
who get marked
as the first world.
Bakken Oil Fields
Foreign family units move into
a region and reproduce. An
imperial power oversees the
immigration of these settlers.
This colonization leads to
depopulation of the previous
inhabitants, and the settlers
take over the land of the
previous residents.
“In order for settlers to make a
place their home they must
destroy and disappear the
Indigenous Peoples that live
(In LA it is the Tongva: (Warfare was not
frequent for and robbery, murder, and incest
was rare. They did not believe in evil spirits,
or any concept of a hell or devil until Spanish
missionaries. Porpoises and owls were
highly esteemed and were never killed.
introduced boys to manhood through fasting,
hallucinogenic rituals and trials of
The settlers are generally
viewed by the colonizing
authority as racially superior
to the previous inhabitants,
giving their social
movements and political
demands greater legitimacy
than those of colonized
peoples in the eyes of the
home government.
“Settlers are not
Immigrants are
beholden to the
Indigenous laws and
epistemologies of the
lands they migrate to.
Settlers become the
law, supplanting
Indigenous laws and
Indian Civilization Act of 1819
Removal Act of 1830
Ex parte Crow Dog 109 U.S. 556 (1883)
Indian General Allotment Act (1887)
Indian Boarding Schools (1887 – present)
Indian Relocation Act of 1956
United States v. Lara, 541 U.S. 193 (2004),
Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl,570
U.S.(Baby Veronica, 2013),
Indigenous Peoples (other 1%): U.S. government, states, and
religious groups (poverty, put on reservations, removed from
prime territories, destruction of resources and exploitation of the
labor of people, poor health care and education, privileging white
folks, laws, beliefs, values, etc
For US (98%): lack of living wages (poverty); removing poor folks
from their neighborhoods; 50 million without health insurance;
gender inequalities in wages; exploitation of foreign labor
(sweatshops); control of the food chain by multinationals;
substandard education in poor communities; privileging the
wealthy and super wealthy (1%), etc.
For the Planet: Global pollution, dumping, hydraulic fracking,
climate change, Nuclear disasters, GMOs,
When the United
Nations was
established in 1945,
750 million people almost a third of the
world's population lived in Territories
that were non-selfgoverning, controlled
and dependent on
colonial powers.
In 1960 The General Assembly adopted, in the
Declaration on the Granting of Independence to
Colonial Countries and Peoples.
All people have a
right to selfdetermination and
colonialism should
be brought to a
speedy and
unconditional end.
Decolonization is an
unsettling process since it
involves the repatriation of
Indigenous Peoples’ lands,
lives, and rights;
The colonized are freed from
the colonial control and the
colonizers return to their
own lands. (This has not
happened in the USA).
(At right: Sovereignty ceremony)
Definitions Decolonization
“Decolonization is an unsettling process since it involves
the repatriation of Indigenous Peoples’ lands, lives, and
rights; the colonized are released or freed from the
colony/colonized and return to their independent status.
Colonizers return to their own lands.” (Source: Tuck & Wang in
Decolonization is not a Metaphor” in Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society (Vol.
1, No. 1, 2012, pp. 1-40).
“…the restoration of cultural practices, thinking, beliefs,
and values that were taken away or abandoned (during
the colonization period) but are relevant and/or
necessary for survival and well being. It is the birth and
use of new ideas, thinking, technologies and lifestyles
that contribute to the advancement and empowerment of
Indigenous Peoples.” (Source: Yellow Bird, 2008, Indigenous Social Work, 2008,
Ashgate Press)
Decolonizing Social Work recognizes the limitations and
imperialist frameworks of Western social work that must
be contested on behalf of populations that have been
victimized rather than helped by these approaches (Source:
Decolonizing Social Work, Gray, Coates, Yellow Bird,, & Hetherington, 2013, Ashgate)
Decolonization is the intentional, collective, and reflective selfexamination undertaken by formerly colonized peoples that
results in shared remedial action. Such action traces
continuity from “traditional” (pre-colonial) experiences even
as it embarks on distinctive, purposeful, and self-determined
(post-colonial) experiences. The key to decolonization is
community emancipation from the hegemony of outside
interests (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005). (Source: “A Community-Based
Treatment for Native American ‘Historical Trauma’: Prospects for Evidence-Based Practice” in
press, p. 23).
(International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2008).
The Mass: (the colonial lands and resources and the main political,
security, and financial institutions). Traditional approaches focus on
this area. Social work is involved in the area of security (i.e., justice
systems) but rarely in Indigenous land and resource rights,
protection, and repatriation, or support of political sovereignty.
The Mind: (freeing postcolonial culture and thought from dependence
on western ideas, philosophies, beliefs, theories). More recent
approaches in decolonization focus on this area – decolonizing the
mind, i.e., neurodecolonization (Yellow Bird, 2012, 2013). This is an
area that social work that may become involved in, but the tendency
is to engage in the use of colonized, Western methods.
The Metropole: (The Empire). Decolonization involves freeing the
metropole from its tendency to inferiorize and dominate other
peoples and territories.
Privileging and actively supporting the sovereignty, well
being, spirituality, and land rights of Indigenous Peoples
Recognizing the social work practices, approaches, and
theories in the United States developed from “Western,”
Imperialist paradigms, in many instances, are not relevant to,
or supportive of, Indigenous Peoples values, beliefs, culture,
and rights.
Working with Indigenous communities to implement
traditional practices and philosophies into the contemporary
context for the purposes of healing and community
Maintaining a commitment to tribal sovereignty, the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples, The Rights of Mother Earth
Encourage the growth of new beneficial brain
networks that enable us to:
- Train our attention to: Engage in
level of optimistic thinking that enables
a believe that colonialism can be
Develop the courage to confront it;
Cultivate the creativity needed to use
novel, effective approaches to change
In order for decolonization to be successful it must first
begin in our minds
Creative, healthy, decolonized thinking, actions, and
feelings, positively shape and empower important neural
circuits in our brain, which in turn provide us with the
personal resources, strengths, abilities we need to
overcome colonialism.
Unconstructive, negative thinking, feelings, and behaviors
dampen and short-circuit our brain’s creativity and
optimistic networks, and increase our susceptibility to
stress, failure, complacency, and fear.
The more we engage in negativity or distraction the more
we strengthen our unproductive neural networks.
Spiritual movements and traditional ceremonies of
Indigenous Peoples have been a major form of successful
resistance to American colonialism (which is why they
were so viciously attacked and outlawed by the forces of
American Colonialism):
 Sun
 Ghost Dance
 Big Drum
 Long House
 Smoke House
 Dream Dances
 Medicine Lodge
After only 11 hours of
practice (30 minute
sessions) positive
structural changes took
place in the white matter
of the brain, which
boosted brain
(Posner, et al, 2010)
45 minutes of practice
per day for 8 weeks
changes brain
structures associated
with memory, sense
of self, empathy, and
stress (Sarah Lazar, et
al, 2011)
Reduction in Stress –
decreased gray
matter in amygdala
Conflict-related Insula:
Mindfulness meditation
activates the “insula, which
is associated with interoception,
the sum of visceral and
“gut” feelings that we experience
at any given moment,
Is a key region involved in
processing transient bodily
sensations, thereby contributing
to our experience of ‘selfness’”
The temporal parietal
junction becomes activated
during meditation.
This area is associated with
the ability to perceive the
emotional and mental state
of others.
This brain area is more
active in meditators than
non-meditators, even
when they are not
Singing to the Sacred Cedar
Arikara brain on happiness,
joy, optimism, feelings of
well being
Orbital Frontal Cortex
Internal reality check of how we
come across to others. It biases
us to have an overstated
evaluation of our skills,
intelligence, personality, and
health; mostly, because we do not
call upon this part of the brain to
evaluate our “true” capacities.
Referred to as the “above-average
effect,” (the less activity in this
area the more we see ourselves
through “rose-colored glasses.)
(Jennifer Beers and Brent Hughes , University of Texas )
When a person is taught to believe
that they are the right color, have the
right values and beliefs, live in the
greatest country on earth, and that
they are from an exceptional class of
people, they will have even more
difficulty engaging this brain region–
Consequences: they will lack the
ability to mindfully and honestly
critique their privilege, culture,
beliefs, values, and their nation’s
failures and weaknesses
D = OBFa x Ao x Mc x Crt x So x Rpc x SCc x Bn x Scp
is the event of decolonization.
OBFa is the optimal brain function that is needed for progressive
intellectual activities such as unbound creativity, genius-level
problem solving skills and performance, enhanced memory,
optimism and concentration skills, superior critical thinking
capacities, deep awareness, and a “rage to master” (Ellen Winner,
1996). The “a” subscript refers to the activities needed to produce
optimal brain functioning.
is the awareness of the many forms and processes of oppression
among Indigenous Peoples due to the colonialism. Requires
understanding the mind and brain functions of the colonizer.
is the motivation of the culture to progress from their present state
of oppression
D = OBFa x Ao x Mc x Crt x So x Rpc x SCc x Bn x Scp
is the ability to change the relationship with past and present trauma
represents the strategies that are consciously pursed to overcome and survive
oppressive conditions.
is the restoration of past cultural beliefs, language, ideas, and technologies
that were taken away or abandoned but are still useful in the present
is the conscious suspension of culture during critical times (such as invasion
by a group bent on destroying the culture)
is the birth of new ideas, beliefs, thinking, and technologies that can be
adapted to the present culture
is the suspension of past cultural practices that led to oppressive situations
within the society during pre-colonial period