Dear Inhabitants of the “New World,” We Need to Move Forward From the “Indian Problem”: Settler Colonial States and “The Problem” of the Aboriginals

Sarah Dajani ’26

Staff Writer

You guessed wrong. We are not addressing pollution, illiteracy, or corruption. We are talking about the plan that aimed to assimilate Native Americans. Since before the so-called American Independence Day, Native Americans were forced to identify as “negroes.” Laws like Virginia’s Anti-Assembly of 1723 deprived free “negroes, mulattoes, and Indians” of their sense of community by obstructing their meetings and connections. It was not until the late 1800s that a distinction emerged between black Africans kidnapped from their homes and Native Americans. This mere distinction created the “Indian Problem” in the 1950s United States. To “solve” this “problem,” the US government decided to erase tribal culture by moving indigenous people from their reservations to cities and kidnap their children so they could be wiped out—or “civilized” as the government disguised it for a couple of centuries. This “civilization” disconnected indigenous people from their traditions, culture, and medicine. Today, aboriginals rank close to or at the bottom of health, education, and employment measures in North America. But hey, there are tens of museums that honor the “American Indian.” 

Settler colonialism is yet another form of European Imperialism. Initiatives led by “foreigners” (i.e., non-indigenous people) to decolonize indigenous people became grand propaganda in the mission to achieve Western imperialist goals. External representation of Native people still calls for the process of decolonization. In settler colonial states from the Americas to Australia, decolonization does not take the form of withdrawing troops and announcing independence. Decolonization is a constant process of recognizing the system that led to the world being the way it is. 

Settler colonial tactics have never stopped; they have been altered to fit the white-constructed “universal truth.” Just like “civilize” was used as a synonym for erase, settler colonies now use vague words like democracy, sustainability, and diversity to erase everyone else’s truth. In the rare occasions where significant progress is made for native people, it is either done through the aboriginals who have been assimilated and decided to speak up about the atrocity in their colonizers language, or it is barely reported, and in many cases, silenced. Canadian-“Indian” residential schools serve as an example. Deprived from their own families and culture, aboriginal children were forced to assimilate into “Canadian” culture after being kidnapped and placed in residential “schools.” Those who survived started speaking out about the horrors they saw in a “Canadian way.” Although they started speaking out in the 1980s, courts only ruled in their favor in the mid-1990s, and the last residential “school” was closed down in 1996. Recognizing this is painful to the current white Canadian society, but it is insignificant to the shame and disgrace that silencing it causes. A former officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the force that was charged with “picking up” aboriginal children, says he is “ashamed to say I’m Canadian because of what my government has done.” Despite the limited reporting of Canadian residential schools, it is much better than that of the “extreme, nostalgic pushes” taken by aboriginals fighting assimilation. For example, Tamazight, the language of the Amazighs, Morocco’s indigenous tribe, was made a national language in 2011—or even more threatening, naming a land by its original name! Aotearoa Liberation League, a decolonial project based in nowadays New Zealand, aims to dismantle oppressive systems around the world, starting by going back to the original name of the land the league is based in. Settler colonial efforts combined with that of their European ancestry create a powerful union that ensures strict global adherence to the rule of the white man. 

This explains the close ties between NATO countries and Israel, despite the latter not being a member of NATO. The US alone has financed Israel’s military since 2001—more than all the military support to Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq combined since that same year. If you think this is a ridiculous amount of money that is better invested in the United States’ education, healthcare, and infrastructure, you will be disappointed to realize that the services Israel provides—suppressing nationalistic movements and unity in the area—amount to so much more in resources and compliance than US laws. To add to your disappointment, the World Bank estimates that Israel is more than capable of purchasing its own weapons as it is the 29th largest per capita GDP in the world, ahead of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and Japan. This financing is not sympathetic, compassionate, or romantic; it is the manifestation of settler colonial imperialism, and the fear of liberation movements that would end their capitalistic gains of oil, land, water, and labor. 

So, how to deal with the “Indian Problem?” Let us start by acknowledging the things that represent atrocities and tragedies to native populations. Calling the aboriginals “Indian” is confusing and offensive as, originally, it was used to estrange indigenous tribes from their lands. Secondly, place indigenous people, not governments, at the center of the decolonization process. Whether it is Trump’s offensive reference to Pocahontas or prime ministers “feeling indigenous,” aboriginals in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Palestine were promised sovereignty over their land, waters, and people, not co-governance with the settlers nor membership in their systemically oppressive governments whose aim is to eventually get to the situation that best fits the white man: “democracy,” parliaments, and “free” elections. True progress lies within a society built with indigenous knowledge, one that views land beyond its exploitative means.

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