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Colonisation is invasion: a group of people taking over the land and imposing their own culture on the Indigenous population of that land.

Modern colonisation dates back to the Age of Discovery in the 15th century, as European nations sought to expand their influence and wealth. In the process, representatives of these countries claimed new lands, ignoring the Indigenous people, using the resources, moving their own populations onto the land and often, erasing Indigenous sovereignty.

Laws and policing were significant tools of dispossession and oppression. Indigenous people were brutalised, exploited and often positioned as subhuman. As Jean-Paul Sartre described colonisation:

[…] you begin by occupying the country, then you take the land and exploit the former owners at starvation rates […] you finish up taking from the natives their very right to work.[1]

The term is derived from the Latin word colere, which means “to inhabit”.

Colonization refers strictly to migration, for example, to settler colonies in Australia and America, trading posts, and plantations, while colonialism to the existing indigenous peoples of styled “new territories”.


Professor of Race Relations, Yin Paradies, writes that:

            “In settler-colonial societies, interest in colonisation is often focused on relatively distant colonial pasts where Indigenous peoples were ‘displaced’ (and other euphemisms for slavery, rape, torture, murder and genocide), with relatively scant attention paid to ongoing colonial presence/presents in which systemic, structural, physical, epistemic and ontological violence continue to oppress, assimilate and eradicate Indigenous peoples. This has resulted in vast over-representation of Indigenous peoples among, for example, the impoverished, unhealthy, imprisoned and homeless, as well as even greater under-representation among politicians, administrators, the wealthy, influential and famous. For Indigenous peoples from around the world, the ‘slow violence’ of colonisation exists alongside violent assaults and fatal neglect. There is also a growing realisation of the impossibility of justice through the law, of reconciliation, or of any answers at all from within settler-colonial states”. [2]


[1] Mary Frances O’Dowd & Robyn Heckenberg ‘Explainer: what is decolonisation?’, in The Conversation, June 23, 2020

[2] Yin Paradies (2020): Unsettling truths: modernity, (de-)coloniality and Indigenous futures, Postcolonial Studies
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