Statement on Settler Colonialism

Settler colonialism plays out in locales across the globe over the past few centuries

By Josh Fattal

On this week of Thanksgiving, I want to share the Center for Rural Livelihoods’ statement on settler colonialism, which includes us insisting on a lasting ceasefire and a free Palestine.

 Many groups and institutions are doing land acknowledgements, and we are building on that to look at the process of settler colonialism, which plays out in locales across the globe over the past few centuries. The statement is below. Perhaps organizations you know will want to adopt it. But before that, I want to share what I learned at the Applegate House in Yoncalla on Nov. 20

The Center for Rural Livelihoods is currently sharing a group of AmeriCorps volunteers with Komemma Cultural Protection Association (KCPA). The AmeriCorps team spends three days per week at KCPA and 2 days per week at the Center for Rural Livelihoods. KCPA has been undertaking an ambitious 207 acre land rematriation project in Yoncalla. There is a ton of work to do on the KCPA land, but the leaders of KCPA asked the AmeriCorps team to spend one of their valuable workdays at the Applegate House. What is that? Why is that important? How is it related to settler colonialism?

The Applegates made it over the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. They were middle class, opposed slavery and couldn’t compete with local slave-holding businesses in Missouri. Upon arrival in what is now Yoncalla, they sent out smoke signals to contact the local inhabitants. Charles Applegate spoke Chinuuk jargon and could communicate with the local Komemma band of Kalapuya Indians. 

A local leader named Camafeema came to meet with them. The Applegates asked Camafeema for permission to settle there. Camafeema said yes, showed them the local spring and a nearby camping area. The Komemma band taught the Applegates about Doug-fir tea, medicinal uses of chokeberry bark and shared other local knowledge.

Their relationship points to a historical trajectory that was snuffed out by grander historical forces at the time. In the 1850s, the U.S. government rounded up Native Americans in Oregon Territory and forced them onto reservations. The Applegates helped members of the Komemma band evade the round up, and the relationship continued through the generations. 

The great-great-granddaughters of both Charles Applegate and Camafeema work together today. Shannon Applegate, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Applegate, showed CRL staff and the AmeriCorps crew around their historic rural house earlier this week. Esther Stutzman, the great-great-granddaughter of Camafeema is the director of the Komemma Cultural Protection Association and for many years served as the chair of the board of directors of the Applegate House. Stutzman and Applegate collaborated on a program called “Two-eyed Seeing” that teaches about the differences and similarities between Indigenous and settler approaches.

Settler colonialism stands in contrast to these respectful and reciprocal inter-generational relationships.

Statement on Settler Colonialism

The land we are on is Indigenous land taken by settlers and governments in an ongoing process understood as settler colonialism. We recognize that settler colonialism involves stealing resources and uprooting Indigenous peoples.

We acknowledge that settler colonialism is global — from European settlers conquering North America, Australia and parts of Africa to settler colonial expansion by Russia, Japan, Germany, China and others.

We recognize that Zionism and its success in creating the Jewish State of Israel is an instance of settler colonialism in Palestine buoyed by long standing political, ideological and economic support by the USA. Zionism was rooted in 19th century European nationalisms and all significant strands of Zionism since the 1920s were predicated on Palestinian expulsion and Jewish supremacy. We recognize that Zionism is unique in that its project of settler colonialism is being perpetrated by many historical victims of settler colonialism, racism and genocide. This fact makes the crimes of Israel more tragic.

We oppose settler colonialism in all its forms. Along with a lasting ceasefire in Palestine, we call for international law to be enforced, land rematriation and reparations to occur, and a lasting, equitable post-colonial peace settlement between Jews and non-Jews in historic Palestine.

If you’d like to learn more, here are some resources for you to explore:

For settler colonialism in global context, see Caroline Elkins and Susan Pederson’s Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century. It is fascinating to see how the two superpowers of the second half of the twentieth century (USA and Russian Empire) conquered vast swathes of land in similar periods in the preceding centuries. U.S. conquered westward while Russia settled and dominated Indigenous Siberia to the east.

For British settler colonialism, see Replenishing the Earth by James Belich and Indigenous Continent by Pekka Hämäläinen.

For understanding the Nazi’s primary political objective as settler colonialism in Eastern Europe, see General Plan East and Mark Mazower’s Hitler’s Empire.

For a history of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism in Palestine, see Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, and Rashida Khalidi’s The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance

For more recent history of Gaza, see Norman Finkelstein’s Gaza: An Inquest into it Martydom

For an important picture of US-Israeli relations, see The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

For theory of settler colonialism see Settler Colonialism by Patrick Wolfe

Josh Fattal is a former hostage of the Islamic Republic of Iran, director of the Center for Rural Livelihoods and he co-wrote A Sliver of Light: 3 Americans detained in Iran with Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd. He will lead a three-part zoom presentation via Temple Beth Israel in January that will weave his personal experience with Middle East history.

Comments are closed.