Does Colonialism Still Impact Communities Today?

To Understand the Present, We Must Look to the Past
By IndyKids staff

In the 1700s and 1800s, rich and powerful European countries, such as Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands, began to venture out in search of more land and resources that they deemed valuable. They began to establish colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and South, Central and North America. Europe represents about 8% of the Earth’s landmass, but from 1492 to 1914, they conquered or colonized more than 80% of the entire world.

The act of colonization is when a country or a nation takes forceful control of other lands, territories, resources or people outside of its own borders. These stolen lands were turned into colonies of the invading countries, where they would establish settlements in order to gain control of the area and the resources they had available. The Indigenous peoples living on these lands were pushed out of their regions or were forced into slavery and servitude. Researchers at the University College of London estimate that European settlers killed 56 million Indigenous people over a 100-year span in South, Central and North America.

Colonization had a devastating impact on Indigenous populations, culture, language and livelihood and forever altered the land that the colonizers controlled, the effects of which can still be felt today.


Did Colonialism Pave the Road to a Climate Crisis?
By Luca Cantagallo, age 13 and IndyKids staff

For the first time in its 30-year history, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report used the word “colonialism” when discussing the impacts of climate change. The IPCC report, which was published in April 2022, stated that colonialism has exacerbated the effects of climate change and has made particular communities more vulnerable to its effects.

Colonialism was motivated by the promise of power and access to valuable resources like wood, cotton, metal, oil and even people. By plundering Native lands in order to obtain resources, colonizers paved the way for the destruction of local ecosystems, which in the long term has severely affected our climate. 

“​​Officials and scientists from around the globe now recognize the significant role colonialism has played in heating our planet and destroying its many gifts.”


The IPCC report states that colonization is an ongoing driver of climate change. “​​Officials and scientists from around the globe now recognize the significant role colonialism has played in heating our planet and destroying its many gifts,” said the report. Climate change is rooted in the exploitation of Earth’s land, which is also a foundational principle of colonialism. Many Indigenous cultures cultivated a respect for the environment; however, colonization drove the need for more material gain at the expense of our planet.

During the early years of colonization, Native diverse agriculture around the world was replaced with cash crops such as sugar, cotton and tobacco, which were exported to boost the European economy. This was detrimental to the local ecosystems, negatively affected soil health and biodiversity, and made countries particularly susceptible to plant diseases. This monoculture system—or, the growing of single crops instead of many—imposed by the colonists destroyed the balanced relationship that Indigenous peoples had formed with their environment over centuries.
Today, rising sea levels and extreme weather events worsened by climate change are disproportionately felt by Indigenous peoples worldwide. Despite this, climate policies continue to exclude Indigenous peoples. “We cannot have environmental justice without reversing the harms of colonialism,” explained Hadeel Assali, a lecturer and postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Science and Society. In order to achieve climate justice, governments must work with Indigenous communities to provide land reparations and climate adaptations for impoverished communities.


How the Loss of Native Languages Impacts Indigenous Peoples Today
Nikhil Sabnis, age 10 and IndyKids staff

There are approximately 6,700 languages in the world, according to the United Nations, and more than half of these are expected to become extinct by 2100, the majority of which are Indigenous languages, pointing to a legacy of colonialism that still exists today. 

Language not only serves as a form of communication, but also contains the philosophies, knowledge, and community experiences of a group which have been transferred across many generations. Languages are part of the identity of Indigenous peoples and are important for the continuation of their culture, worldview and self-determination, according to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “When Indigenous languages are under threat, so too are Indigenous peoples themselves,” explained the forum in a backgrounder. Today, an Indigenous language is erased every two weeks, according to the United Nations.

Colonists from Europe drew on cultural imperialism to invade and colonize the Americas. Believing that the Native American way of life was “barbaric,” they conquered Indigenous lands and suppressed and eradicated Native culture to spread their own religion, customs and language.

Today, some countries still do not acknowledge the existence of Indigenous languages in their territories. They are often referred to as dialects and are seen as less important than national languages, according to a report by UNESCO. Due to years of discrimination, many chose not to teach their children their Native language so that they’d become fluent in national languages like English and have more schooling and job opportunities in the future.

Some Indigenous peoples have been successfully reintroducing their Native language through their own initiatives. The Native Hawaiian language, which nearly went extinct in the 1970s, is now being taught in public schools through immersion programs. These efforts provide hope to preserve their culture, values and traditions.


Does the Legacy of Colonialism Create Inequalities and Generational Poverty in Our World Today? The U.N. Human Rights Council Has Said, Yes, It Does
By Clara Wong, age 14 and IndyKids staff

Colonialism is not just a subject taught in history class, its ongoing legacy is still very much tied to the present. An interactive dialogue released from a panel discussion held by the United Nations’ (U.N.) Human Rights Council in September 2022 explored how colonialism has led to widespread issues of racial discrimination, xenophobia and poverty throughout the world today.

During the Age of Discovery, Indigenous nations were stripped of their own governance and natural resources to fill the pockets of colonizers. For hundreds of years, the Global South and Indigenous peoples living in the Americas were robbed of their natural wealth. The result of this was development and societal success for the Global North and destabilization and poverty in the South, the effects of which created generational poverty and economic inequalities which can still be felt today. 

U.N. Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif, the keynote speaker at the panel, said that the only way to overcome the inequalities and sustainable development challenges that we experience today is by addressing the legacies of colonialism. The council also recognized that Africans and people of African descent, people of Asian descent, as well as Indigenous peoples were victims of colonialism, and of its consequences.

Verene Shepherd, chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, explained how political independence and decolonization efforts of the past were not enough to end colonialism. She explains that to put an end to the discriminatory impacts of colonization, it is time that former colonial powers own up to their wrongdoings and engage in discussion with former colonies. “The duty to provide effective remedies to victims, ensure accountability, and to provide reparation to victims was incumbent on the former colonizing power,” explained Fabian Salvioli, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. 

Decolonization occurs when we work to deconstruct colonial systems that exist in our society, and address unbalanced power dynamics. It is also the valuing of Indigenous knowledge, examining our own beliefs, actively learning and engaging in conversation about difficult topics, and standing up when you see injustice. Just by reading this article, you are taking steps to make changes to the world around you.

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