I have this recurring nightmare that when we figure out how to colonize other planets, the first step will be removal.
America was founded against the frontier, pressing further and further west, consuming indigenous territory until we ran out of land to steal. Processes like allotment and termination further limited native land holdings, and indigenous peoples across the country (and the globe) are still fighting for sovereignty today. Some of those struggles include the move for self-government by Kanaka Maoli in Hawaii, and the #noDAPL movement at the Standing Rock reservation.
There’s nowhere left to remove indigenous peoples to at this point, yet native land is still under threat from the state and from corporations. That’s where the nightmare comes in: if there’s nowhere left on Earth, what happens when space is open to colonization? Will the power of settler/colonialism diminish as Euro-Americans seek to make their homes in new frontiers? Or will they see the vastness of space as the perfect new territory for reservations? It’s well within American tradition to remove native peoples to inhospitable, non-arable land, just like what we would find on Mars or Venus.
The version of our future presented by Star Trek has given us a potential answer to these questions. Chakotay’s tribe, dissatisfied with the ongoing pressures to assimilate into settler culture, removed themselves. They made a new home, far from the land they were made for, hoping to create new sovereign space for themselves, free from historical trauma and settler domination.
But the Federation still came for them. It still gave their sovereign land over to the Cardassians, an aggressive foreign power. The Federation, true to its roots in Western democratic tradition, still disregarded indigenous land rights, still stole native territory and gave it away without thought. When the people of that land protested, when Federation citizens suffered violence from the Cardassians, the resistance movement was disavowed, called dangerous, then infiltrated and destabilized by Federation intelligence. In its benevolence, the Federation offered relocation to those affected, but then, we know where government-sponsored removal leads.
If you know your indigenous histories, this story will seem familiar. Even now, as water protectors at Standing Rock oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline and the continued violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, they are carrying on a centuries-long tradition of native resistance. Our water protectors have in turn been met with violence, with dedicated campaigns of misinformation and infiltration.
I want to be very clear that this is not merely an attempt to draw parallels between fiction and reality. I do not want to fall into the trap of fictionalizing and thus de-emphasizing and devaluing the work and experiences of our water protectors and other folks engaged in indigenous resistance. However, the story told by the Maquis conflict is so familiar, so resonant with struggles like #noDAPL for a reason: the western state has no greater tradition than the disregard for native sovereignty, than the elimination of indigenous peoples.
These reflections beg the question: what do we want for our future? What hope is there in a future where, even in a utopian republic, indigenous rights are still utterly disregarded?
“One of the most radical and necessary moves toward decolonization,” Arvin, Tuck, and Morrill remind us in Decolonizing Feminism, “requires imagining and enacting a future for Indigenous peoples—a future based on terms of their own making.” Decolonization, the difficult and ongoing work of returning life and land to indigenous peoples by dismantling structures of white supremacy and settler-colonialism, cannot be done without imagining indigenous futures.
The future presented by Star Trek isn’t good enough. Sure, it tells us that in 200 years native people are still alive, are still resisting assimilation and conquest, but what good is it to imagine what we already know? Indigenous futures should mean decolonization, sovereignty, self-determination, healing. We shouldn’t be facing today’s same struggles 200 years from now. That’s a fatalistic and, frankly, uninteresting view of the future.
But if we here in this moment don’t continue to do the work of decolonization, then that’s the future we’ll get, or worse. We have to take concrete steps to eliminate white supremacy and settler-colonialism—and we have to center indigenous peoples in that work. The only way we can reach a new future, find a new story, is to invest in indigenous sovereignty and resistance.
Ask yourself whose land you’re on. Do you know? Can you find out? Read work by indigenous people on decolonization and resistance. Spend time finding the ways colonialism and/or white supremacy benefit or entrap you. Then, do the work. “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” Hold up indigenous voices, contribute to resistance efforts, and remember you’re on stolen land. Demand that the stories told of our future are those of our own making; imagine what futures we could have, free of white supremacy, free of settler-colonialism, free of patriarchy, and of all the intersections between.
Imagine those futures, and work to make them true.