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March 10, 2017

The roots of injustice here in the United States, and many countries around the world, can be traced to colonization.

White people settled in lands far from their own, carved out a life on a new patch of earth, and in doing so violated Native people’s rights. And our country is no exception.

To this day, Native people face discrimination and injustice. Throughout the history of this country, colonizers grabbed their land and natural resources, violating treaty rights time and again.

ActionAid works with indigenous people in Africa, Asia, and across the Americas who are defending their rights to land, water and homes from violations by companies, unaccountable governments, local elites, or even their male relatives. People like the amazing women from 22 African countries who came together to climb Africa’s tallest mountain in October last year to demand their land rights, and local farmers in Brazil whose prosperous organic farming business is under threat from massive sugarcane plantations that grow fuel for our cars and trucks.

It’s also why we’ve been standing up at Standing Rock and why we will be joining the Native Nations March on Washington today.

At Standing Rock, for the first time since colonization, all of the native tribes came together to speak with a unified voice to defeat the pipeline and defend land and water rights – and this was truly amazing! At the Native Nations March on Washington, the same tribes will again come together, uniting people who were divided centuries ago. Their unity will be our strength.

One of the messages at Standing Rock that will be echoed today is that we are all one people inhabiting our Mother Earth, and that we have an obligation to dismantle the systems and structures that divide people and threaten the resources of this planet.

I’m a White woman who went to Standing Rock. But I’m also a descendant of these colonizers. My mother lives on reservation land, and my children are now learning American history in school.

I’m a White woman who went to Standing Rock. I’m also a descendant of these colonizers. My mother lives on reservation land, and my children are learning American history in school.

My ancestors committed genocide, and we must face the fact that there was a concerted effort to wipe out an entire people, many nations and tribes, from this continent so we could have free reign over the natural resources of this land.

Every classroom that fails to teach our children that these White migrants and immigrants also brought guns, alcohol, disease, and other terrors to our shores that wiped out entire generations of native people, perpetuates the injustice of colonization.

But it doesn’t stop there. The colonizers took more and more land. They marched Native peoples to their death, and those who survived were sent to reservations that became virtual prisons. The Native leaders at Standing Rock and across this country tell us their people continue to be denied equal and affordable access to health care, education, and jobs.

To repair this deep injustice, we must advocate not only for the respect of the treaty rights of Native people, but also for their full access to a dignified life.

In some of the colonization stories we teach our children, the native people are generous, kind, welcoming – as if they blessed this takeover of their lands and livelihoods. Sometimes these stories endear our children to the settlers as White saviors fighting “savage” Indians.

By doing this, we perpetuate a deep injustice. Colonization was a form of genocide, and the longer we fail to face up to that history and humbly offer our deep and sincere apology, we can’t have reconciliation.

That humble apology needs to be accompanied by a commitment to decolonize our lives and this nation. It’s an act of reparation, of respect, of repairing this land and relationships with Native peoples.

That humble apology must be accompanied by a commitment to decolonize our lives and this nation. It’s an act of reparation, of respect, of repairing this land and relationships with Native peoples.

Tweet: Decolonizing our lives is an act of repairing this land & relationships with Native peoples | @ActionAidUSA

Decolonization in my life is about only taking up the space my physical body occupies, using only the resources that are necessary. It’s also an attempt to practice resisting the temptation to assert my ideas and contributions, until the vision of Native people, people of color, and all others who lack my privilege have had a chance to show us all the way forward.

It’s a process. It takes practice. Beyond the individual, the Native Nation’s March, Standing Rock, and Black Lives Matter ask us to think as a Nation about what decolonization looks like, and it might mean that we need reparations to heal and start anew.

The good news is that we are not alone in this effort. I channeled images of solidarity from indigenous leaders of land and resource struggles around the world to the Standing Rock water defenders. Solidarity is a two-way street, and there is much that can be shared and built within the U.S. and across our borders that can help right relations between people and our planet.

So, I’m getting ready. I’m washing my red ActionAid T-shirt – it feels like I’ve been wearing it every day this week!

I wore it to protest a Muslim Ban that tries to separate me from my Muslim sisters, brothers and colleagues. I wore it as I joined the Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day, bringing my red-clad kids to the Department of Labor to demand fair pay, recognition for the unpaid care burden, and violence free workplaces. And I will put it on again on March 10 to join the Native leaders of this land as they march on Washington.

I will be just a White ally in a huge crowd, following Native leaders, who hold ancient wisdom about the interconnectedness of humanity and the earth. With every step on this Mother Earth, I will commit to become an ever stronger eco-feminist dedicated to decolonizing my life. Join me!