The Roots — and Replacement — of Colonization

“To understand the root causes of the pathologies we see today, which impact all of us but affect Brown, Black and Poor people more intensely, we have to examine the foundations of this society which began with COLONIZATION…. Colonization was the way the extractive economic system of Capitalism came to this land, supported by systems of supremacy and domination which are a necessary part to keep wealth and power accumulated in the hands of the colonizers and ultimately their financiers.” — Dr. Rupa Marya

That powerful message appeared in my Facebook feed today, along with this fascinating breakdown:

Dr. Marya came to see this web of connections and pathways through her work in hospitals, realizing that “social structures [are] directly leading to poor health outcomes for different groups” — poor health outcomes like chronic inflammation, brought about by chronic stress and intergenerational trauma, with their roots in colonization and all that it entails. She now works at “the intersection of society and the human body and our health.”

When I saw Dr. Marya’s diagram and message, my thought was that there’s another level, another layer, that’s at the root of colonization — a worldview that sees the universe and everything in it as a grand mechanism that can be reduced to inherently separate parts. And so, I would amend Dr. Marya’s diagram:


This reductionist worldview is fundamentally at odds with an indigenous worldview that recognizes and honors the inherent wholeness and sacredness of all creation. “To me,” Dr. Marya explains, “to be colonized means to be disconnected and disintegrated — from our ancestry, from the earth, from our indigeneity, our earth-connected selves. We all come from earth-connected people, people who once lived in deep connection to the rhythms of nature. I believe it is not a coincidence that the colonization of this land happened at the same time that Europeans were burning hundreds of thousands of witches, those women who carried the traditional indigenous knowledge of the tribes of Europe.

The question that arises is: what alternative is there to a world of colonization, supremacy and trauma, driven by a mechanistic, reductionist worldview? To de-colonize our minds, we need a new set of assumptions to replace the old. Such a search for what might replace a mindset of colonization is not an attempt to skip ahead, as if trauma can easily be left behind without appropriate healing. But as we heal, can we also start to imagine and build the new? In fact, the new is arising, like a phoenix from the ashes, in every sphere of society and in ourselves. In that spirit, then, of shining a light on what is already emerging, here is a quick first sketch of what Dr. Marya’s diagram might become.

Where the still-dominant colonization mindset sees only resources to be exploited and power to be grabbed in self-serving domination, what if instead the goal were “thrivability” — the ongoing ability of life to thrive as fully as possible over time, in ever evolving ways and forms? What if we approached all life with the active intention to be of service, to enhance the integrity, beauty and regenerative capacity of any living being or community we encounter?

In place of supremacy, what if we embraced stewardship, rooted in a sense of reverence and responsibility — response-ability — to honor, serve and care for all life? Instead of masters, what if we saw ourselves as participants in the unfolding wonder that is the aliveness of this blue-green planet, in all its forms of expression?

In the cracks where the behemoth of capitalism is beginning to crumble, what if we planted systems and structures of regenerative development? If an economic system is simply the intentions and design of our interactions with each other and the world around us, what if we instead designed a system that explicitly repaired damage done and supported life’s ability to continuously regenerate itself?

I’m not sure I have the rest of the diagram completely right (or even if that’s possible), though perhaps it’s a good start. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how it might be made more accurate, appropriate and useful.

In the meantime, what seems most important is to recognize the worldview we’re operating from, to open our eyes to its effects at every level of society and the biosphere, and to acknowledge that there are other, more expansive worldviews that may serve us better. As I say in my book, our primary task is to design our communities, organizations and economies “so the story can move ever forward in the direction of more thriving — more expressiveness, connectedness, generativity and healing.” And in this way, we may be reconnected and re-integrated, as Dr. Marya says, with our ancestry, with the earth, with our indigeneity and with our earth-connected selves.




2 replies
  1. Elizabeth Schulz
    Elizabeth Schulz says:

    I believe all of this; from Dr. Marya’s “what our world has become” Colonization flowchart to you further describing it as Mechanistic Reductionist Worldview (which it has indeed become) to your “promising” Life Honouring Worldview flowchart (the direction that corporatists and non-corporatists alike should be moving for the health of our small planet and all that inhabits it).

    The question is how do you educate the masses who are lead to believe our world leaders have it right, and not willing to open their eyes to the fact that it is the corporatists, and their corporate lobbyists, that are actually in charge (e.g. SNC Lavalin lobbying the Canadian Government to give them a pass on their criminal charges via a DPA that the former AG, Jodi Wilson-Raybould, refused to do … or that oil has been the underlying cause of invasion of countries by foreign governments, resulting in death, disease, malnutrition, and devastation for millions of innocent people … or abominable apartheid which has been ongoing around the world forever based on religious and race discrimination.

    One thing so many of us have forgotten is that we have no control over to whom we are born and in which country we are born, so there is no “level playing field” for the world’s population, and it is once again (as it was in feudal times) becoming less and less level as the rich get richer, the middle class is flattening out, and the poor just continue to get poorer.

    In the case of the U.S., it needs a good dose of what people like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or even Elizabeth Warren (although I would prefer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) at the head of the U.S. Government and, in Canada, someone like Jodi Wilson-Raybould and/or Jane Philpott in charge of the Canadian Government. As Bernie Sanders rightly put it, “change must come from the bottom up”, but it makes it far easier if you have the right “principled” people sitting at the top.

    I commend you and Dr. Marya for giving us a simple picture of where we are and where we should be — it needs to happen and, we the people, need to make it so.

    • Michelle Holliday
      Michelle Holliday says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and kind words, Elizabeth! I agree – the challenges are enormous. But so many people are waking up to the bigger picture. That’s the silver lining – things have gotten so blatantly bad that we can’t be complacent anymore. I can only hope – and continue to work to ensure that – enough of us come around and contribute to change in time to avert irreversible catastrophe.


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