Psychologists show that parents who abuse children were often victims of child abuse themselves. So it is sadly predictable that colonial settlers who came to the new world to escape religious persecution in Europe turned right around and did the same to Indigenous Peoples. Forced off their lands, trapped in boarding schools aimed to “kill the indian and save the man,” attacked through weaponized ecological events such as buffalo extermination and rice agribusiness, Indigenous nations were decimated.
Revenge and retribution creates tit-for-tat cycles of abuse and violence. Indigenous traditions such as “One Bowl, One Spoon” were created as an alternative based on restoring balance. In 1958, a psychologist working in Michigan, Albert Eglash, drew on Indigenous, Christian, and other traditions to coin the term “restorative justice.” As Bishop Desmond Tutu explained in the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar concepts are used by Indigenous Peoples elsewhere:
“I contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice, which was characteristic of traditional African jurisprudence. Here the central concern is not retribution or punishment but, in the spirit of ubuntu, the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships. This kind of justice seeks to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator.”
Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were also used in Canada to approach redress of injustice against First Nations peoples. Thus it is in the spirit of bimaadiziwin -- restoring balance -- that we analyze the wrongs perpetrated by colonists.
As a result of colonization, Native Americans were forced to switch from biodiverse diets to mass produced foods, high in sugars, fats, and starches. This caused obesity and health problems such as diabetes for humans, but non-humans were affected as well. Rather than a diverse internal ecosystem of gut microorganisms, animals raised for consumption on factory farms are restricted to tight pens and hence administered antibiotics, increasing fat content and decreasing their fitness for consumption. Rather than a diverse soil ecosystem, plants grown on industrial farms rely on pesticides, weed killers, and petrochemical fertilizers, decreasing their nutritional benefits as the soil health declines. Excess fertilizer, pesticides, and weed killers are also washed into nearby rivers, poisoning the water and disrupting ecosystems.
Decolonization is the process of reclaiming land, but it is also restoring ideas, practices and relationships. As Desmond Tutu puts it, the perpetrator needs to be rehabilitated as well as the survivors: otherwise pesticides and other poisons will continue to spread. Efforts to decolonize diets can make pre-contact traditional foods available to all. But it is particularly impactful for Native community efforts, where revitalizing and reclaiming native foods reconnects Indigenous Peoples to their ancestors, as well as improving health outcomes and ecosystems. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to establish their own food and agriculture systems.