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Settler Colonialism

A DEFINITION:
settler colonialism: A form of violence that is ongoing so far as settlers are still claiming the land, denying and destroying the social, political, and economic life of Indigenous populations, and using other tactics of domination.

CONTEXT & HISTORY:
Colonialism is a system that occupies and usurps labor/land/resources from one group of people for the benefit of another. Settlers are also different from other colonizers in that they are there to stay, unlike in other colonial systems where the colonizer returns to their home country after profiting.  Here, the land itself is the profit.
Another important concept in understanding this system is the idea that in settler colonialism, “invasion is a structure not an event.” This means that settler colonialism is not just a vicious thing of the past, such as the gold rush, but exists as long as settlers are living on appropriated land and thus exists today. Anyone not Indigenous, living in a settler colonial situation is a settler. Therefore all non-Indigenous people living in what is today called the “U.S.” are settlers living on stolen land. Settlers do not all benefit equally from settler colonialism (Settler Colonialism Primer).

We understand settler colonialism to refer to a distinct form of colonialism that seeks to eliminate Indigenous populations from their land and replace them with settlers. Settlers, upon arrival, impose new social, economic, and political structures, including land and resource control, on pre-existing Indigenous populations. Over time, settler societies develop distinct identities and claim sovereignty to the land, erasing and dominating Indigenous histories and bodies via biological warfare, military domination, forced assimilation, and false narratives of settler belonging, among other tactics (Solidarity as a Settler Move to Innocence by Miranda Grundy, Jessica Jiang, and May Niiya).

Because settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of white, nonwhite, immigrant, postcolonial, and oppressed people, can similarly be entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation that actually further settler colonialism.
Settler colonialism is different from other forms of colonialism in that settlers come with the intention of making a new home on the land, a homemaking that insists on settler sovereignty over all things in their new domain. Thus, relying solely on postcolonial literatures or theories of coloniality that ignore settler colonialism will not help to envision the shape that decolonization must take in settler colonial contexts. Within settler colonialism, the most important concern is land/water/air/subterranean earth (land, for shorthand, in this article.) Land is what is most valuable, contested, required. This is both because the settlers make Indigenous land their new home and source of capital, and also because the disruption of Indigenous relationships to land represents a profound epistemic, ontological, cosmological violence. (Decolonization is Not a Metaphor by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang).

MEDIA LINKS:
A Typology of Colonialism (5-minute read)

settler colonial studies blog

A graphic describing settler colonialism as, briefly, a distinct form of colonialism that seeks to eliminate Indigenous populations from their land, Indigeneity as communities tied to native peoples living prior to the arrival of colonizers who seek to preserve traditional relationships, and settler moves to innocence as superficial actions that do not actually amend colonial abuse or restore Indigenous relationships.

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