Can We Decolonize Without Engaging the Global South?

How is our social justice work connected to the struggles and movements of the global south, especially if we make a commitment to decolonializing our work?

The Inner Activist has been developing a framework to be able to reflect on key concerns for the social and environmental justice sector. In order to reflect on what is pertinent, our spaces have to be reflective of the societies in which we live, work, struggle, and heal.

In previous posts we shared four lessons that we have organized our efforts around, in order to encourage our sector to reflect on how white dominant culture, capitalism, patriarchy, and colonialism shows up in our work for a better world, and on the importance of inner work in organizing spaces. But there continues to be another missing gap.

How is our social justice work connected to the struggles and movements of the global south? Especially if we make a commitment to de-colonializing our work.

Colonization is a co-dependent project where broad strategies for the systemic exploitation of land and labour were applied across the globe to directly benefit white people regardless of whether they lived in Europe or settled on Indigenous lands elsewhere. This process has resulted in the deep divides between the 'global north,' or nations that continue to benefit from colonial legacies and the 'global south,' which continues to serve as a material resource for enriching industries in the north. Thus, our efforts to decolonize on Turtle Island should be inherently linked and informed by the lessons and struggles of ongoing decolonizing efforts in the global south.

The word decolonization frequently comes up in our courses and workshops. The term’s popularity is indicative of a broader shift in orientation and commitment taking place across the social and environmental justice communities. It has become clear that any commitment to environmental justice and reconciliation cannot happen without meaningful engagement of the First Peoples of the land. However, the stipulation for there to be meaningful engagement remains slippery, often manifesting in experimental and tokenistic forms.

One way we can change this situation is to pay attention to who leads, delivers and accesses the organizations that want to be decolonizing? For example, a diversity of voices at the decision making table can help connect land and water defense strategies in the north with the fight against northern extractive industries and commodity chains exploiting the South. To tap into this connectivity, in order to better engage with decolonization, we need to pay attention to the voices from the diaspora including displaced people and multi-lingual individuals, particularly those who do not speak English.

As a refugee from Colombia, I vividly recall the kinds of actions and conversations that frequently informed Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizing efforts against the open warfare at home. The leadership that emerged is guided by the struggles in neighboring states and communities where environmental, colonial and venture capitalist catastrophes are faced head on, under duress and with abundant mobilization and creativity. But what happens to these individuals when they arrive through the borders in the global north? Unless they are temporarily permitted to visit us here, for example as a "guest speaker," do we still value the leadership of the social justice sector in the south as capable of offering analysis and strategy?

Under the labels of migration, our capacity to engage with our peers from the global south is often tiered, and this may be to our collective disadvantage. 

At the Inner Activist, we have found that the emphasis on racial justice and decolonization should inevitably bring global south issues and communities into the room together with our struggle for global justice and healing across borders, as many migrants are here as a result of these globalized chains of violence and displacement. For example, climate activists need to understand that migrant folk are impacted by and concerned with the impacts of climate change in the global south and ignoring this relationship challenges the integrity of the climate justice movement.

Let us hope that in the journey of healing, love and decolonization, we also find ways to support the leadership, guidance and the language of organizing that comes with including the experiences of those in the global south. Let us start with Indigenous people, and migrant communities who are now trying to make sense of their own relationship to the struggle of solidarity with Indigenous peoples in the North/South and each other. All while surviving and accessing the ‘North’.

We share these thoughts as seeds to what we hope will be a growing conversation about the relationship between power and place in a global context that can center Indigenous people, and migrant communities who are trying to make sense of their own relationship to settler-colonialism and the struggles of Indigenous people on Turtle Island.