Education: Cultural Hegemony and Critical Consciousness

Colonialism, Neo-colonialism & Post-colonialism

Colonialism is the practice of establishing territorial dominion over a colony by an outside political power. This dominion is characterized by military power, cultural and territorial exploitation, expansion, and maintenance. It is the process of securing control over territories by extending limited rights and/or retaining tight authority over people and territories.

Neo-colonialism is a more subtle continuation of colonialism. It is the use of political, cultural, or other pressures to control a certain people. It is the use of cultural hegemony to achieve these controls.

Many European settlers inhabited Ojibwe territory after signing a treaty for fur trade with the Native people. This is an example of colonization as the Europeans used force to establish territorial dominion over the Ojibwe and other indigenous nations.

A timeline of colonizing events shows the following examples (there were many more):

  • In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, requiring tribes to leave Wisconsin.
  • By 1850, President Taylor enacted removal policies, sending 300 men, women and children on a journey back to their original Wisconsin homes.
  • The Wisconsin instance was later called “The Sandy Lake Tragedy.”
  • A total of 400 Native Americans were said to have died in this one of many colonizing operations in which the Federal government exploited Native people in the name of American expansionism. Native populations were disbanded and killed if they resisted.

In Lac Du Flambeau, there is a constant battle against the legacy of historical trauma related to the colonialism, neo-colonialism and cultural hegemony with which white settlers attempted to control people confined to the Indian Reservation.

The Cultural Connections class at the public school attempts to support students in developing critical consciousness of their history and culture. Staff work to revive Ojibwe culture and language by pushing back on policies and practices that represent neo-colonialism and cultural hegemony that operate within the reservation.

Past & Present Examples of Colonialism at Lac Du Flambeau

When European colonists from Europe first came to the Americas prior to 1492, by some estimates there were as many as 112 million Native people living here. By 1650, there seems to have been a consensus among historians that the population has been reduced to about 54 million people. Then, in 1992, William Denevan estimated that the total population for the continent was 53.9 million, as follows: “3.8 million for North America, 17.2 million for Mexico, 5.6 million for Central America, 3 million for the Caribbean, 15.7 million for the Andes and 8.6 million for lowland South America” (Denevan, 2012). This reduction of the population effectively resulted from genocide-disease brought by the colonists, warfare, massacres, exploitation and displacement.

Colonial oligarchs and colonists, followed by the United States and States’ colonial and neo-colonial projects, tried to teach Native Americans Christianity hoping it would lead them to become more like the white man.

Post Civil War in what had become the United States, a neo-colonial policy was instituted. Indigenous nations had by now been corralled into reservations, but not without treaties signed with the federal government. These treaties gave Native people the right to continue to hunt, fished and gather off their reservations. These treaties were not honored until the Voigt act acknowledged the treaties in 1983.

Between 1869 and the 1960s, federal and state administrators forcibly removed thousands of Native children from their families and homes and placed them in boarding schools governed by the federal government and churches. During these years the United States was expanding across North American territory. Boarding schools were a tool to uproot children from their cultural roots and history, and to try to domesticate Native Americans to conform to white people’s ways. This removal was also intended to distract from Native efforts to distract government from their neo-colonial project. In these schools, children were expected to adopt explicit Eurocentric culture (e.g. ways of dressing, hair styles, sedentary agricultural practices) and the world views of white settlers. By 1900, 20,000 Native children were held in boarding schools. By 1925, this number increased three fold.

The people in charge of these schools thought this was the best way to create relations with the Native American tribes that served the federal colonizing project and possibly even give the federal and States ways to control the tribes.

The political controversy that arose out of the 1983 Voigt decision, honoring Indian rights to hunt, fish and gather off reservation, resulted in ACT 31 (see ACT 31 blog). As a result of historical stereotyping, white supremacy, and racial hatred, fueled by the historical narratives they had been taught, many white people in the Wisconsin remain hostile to allowing Native people to fulfill their treaty rights.

Neocolonialism, which is a “new kind of colonialism” where a country takes control without using force, like violence or military means. It occurs when through cultural hegemony–including the policies and practices of capitalism and globalization–a powerful entity, like a federal or State agency, continues the dominion of a once colonizing country or power.

The failure to honor Native treaty rights granted in the first half of the nineteenth century to hunt, fish and gather off reservation rights to Native people was an example of Neocolonialism.

Other examples are the following:

  • Upon the death of a tribe member, non-Native families have purchased reservation territory for summer camping and vacations. This is an example of neo-colonialism because this territory was exploited through non-violent means, using money as a persuasion tactic.
  • After World War II, poverty drove many Ojibwe people off reservations to find work. In fact, the Volunteer Relocation Program, instituted by federal government, sought to move Indian people off reservations. Government provided money for this displacement. This is an example of neo-colonialism as the government is persuading Native people to assimilate into the dominant culture by offering financial incentives.