Decolonization Resource Collection: Americas

American Indian Movement leader Russell Means signs a settlement with assistant Attorney General Kent Frizzell in Wounded Knee, South Dakota (1973). Associated Press. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

Primary sources

Primary source collections

Aboriginal Documentary Heritage
This web exhibition recounts first-hand information illustrating the complex and often contentious relationship between the Canadian government and Canada’s Aboriginal people from the late 1700s to the mid-20th century. Collections range from federal and administrative records and treaties and agreements to military records.

Borderlands
These collections, maintained by the University of Arizona, document the culture and history of Mexico, from colonial period to present, including accounts of Native Americans and their ancestors, the impact of Spanish and Mexican settlement, and the influx of Americans and others into the region during the 19th century.

First Nations and Indigenous Studies
This primary source collection, maintained by the University of British Columbia, contains over twenty different sub-collections and archive folders covering a range of themes, regions, and periods of First Nations and Indigenous History. UBC’s entire First Nations and Indigenous Studies research collection is a necessary resource for any student or scholar interested in North American, Canadian, and Indigenous history.

First Nations (Library and Archives Canada)
Canada’s official collection of First Nations and Aboriginal heritage resources includes administrative, educational, and genealogical records from the Canadian archives. Sub-collections include databases, digitized microfilms, virtual exhibitions, and more.

Native American History Primary Sources
Yale University’s online collection of Native American history sources includes primary sources from across the Americas, dating from pre-Columbian era to the mid twentieth century. Researchers can easily search by region or period.

Yale Indian Papers Project
The New England Indian Papers Series Electronic Archives is a scholarly critical edition of New England Native American primary source materials gathered into one robust virtual collection. It offers students, educators, researchers, Native American tribal members, and the general public, visual and intellectual access to significant historical knowledge for the purposes of teaching, scholarly analysis, and research.

Extracted primary sources

Pontiac, “Proclamations of the “Master of Life” (1763)
After the end of the Seven Years’ War in North America, the British Empire continued to station troops in Indian country without conforming to proper trade or diplomatic protocol. In 1763, the Ottawa Chief Pontiac appropriated the spiritual prophecies of a Delaware prophet, Neolin, in order to recruit tribes from across the region in a series of attacks against British military posts that later spiraled into a full-on war.

Tecumseh, Black Hawk, et. al., various speech excerpts (1810-1879)
This compilation of speeches and quotes is drawn from various nineteenth-century tribal resistance leaders, including Tecumseh, Black Hawk, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, and Sitting Bull. These leaders may have represented different tribes, bands, or communities, but their words all share in resistive tone and anti-colonial ideas—ideas that functioned as the core of violent and peaceful resistance to nineteenth-century American imperialism.

Constitution of Apatzingán (1814)
This is the published version of the Constitution of Apatzingán, the first constitution written in Mexico. This version was printed and distributed in 1821, after Mexico had achieved its independence, but the original version came out of the Congress of Chilpancingo, Guerrero, and was issued on October 22, 1814 under the leadership of the insurgent army of José María Morelos.

Bolívar, Simón, “Address at the Congress of Angostura” (1819)
In the midst of the battles for independence, Bolívar summoned a congress in the city of Angostura to reassert New Granada’s autonomy and to install a political system that he believed would be capable of sustaining a new republic. In the speech, Bolívar lays the foundations for the establishment of democratically governed Gran Colombia that is free from the burden of slavery and racial inequality.

Friedrich Hassaurek, “How to Conduct a Latin-American Revolution” (1865)
Austrian-born journalist Friedrich Haussaurek, who prior to arriving in the United States to become a journalist had participated in the German Revolutions of 1848 and the Vienna Rebellion, wrote this article during his final year as the U.S. minister to Ecuador. Hassaurek questions whether the many physical and political sacrifices made in attempting to achieve independence is worth the reward of sovereignty.

American Indian Movement, “Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper” (1972)
This position paper, authored by several leaders and participants of the American Indian Movement and associated organizations, asserted the sovereignty of Indian Nations and demanded the United States federal government assume full responsibility for generations of treaty betrayal. The Nixon Administration refused to accept the document, further aggravating the tension between the US federal government (particularly the FBI) and supporters of the American Indian Movement.

Secondary sources

Articles and essays

Clements, Christopher, “Between Affect and History: Sovereignty and Ordinary Life at Akwesasne, 1929-1942,” History and Theory 54, 4 (2015).
This essay seeks to recover the ordinary and its analytical and decolonial potential within the extraordinary conditions created by settler colonialism. To do so, it investigates moments when Mohawks at Akwesasne, a community that straddles the US–Canada border, refused to acknowledge settler authority, paying particular attention to the relationship between their refusals and the condition of ordinary life.

Davies, Catherine, “Colonial Dependence and Sexual Difference: Reading for Gender in the Writings of Simón Bolívar (1783-1830),” Feminist Review 79 (2005).
This article explores the textual construction of gender categories in the political discourse of Simón Bolívar by means of a close critical reading of his seminal writings made public between 1812 and 1820. Davies shows how the category of “woman” is constructed ambiguously in independence/anti-colonial discourse, how gender is employed to create hierarchical systems of social organization to legitimate the exercise of power by an elite of white creole men, and how myth is deployed in order to reinforce gender hegemonies.

Gutierrez, Ramon, “Internal Colonialism: An American Theory of Race,” Du Bois Review 1, 2 (2004).
This essay explores the historical genealogy of Internal colonialism as an American theory of race from approximately 1950 to the early 1990s. Internal Colonialism as an idea originated in Latin America as part of a larger Marxist critique of development ideologies and was specifically elaborated by dependency theorists to explain the racial effects of poverty and isolation on indigenous communities.

Hightower Langston, Donna, “American Indian Women’s Activism in the 1960s and 1970s,” Hypatia 18, 2 (2003).
This article focuses on the role of women in three red power events: the occupation of Alcatraz Island, the Fish-in movement, and the occupation at Wounded Knee. Hightower Langston draws on historical and political influences among various tribes that hosted and participated in red power events in order to better explain the role of young and elder women in the broader Indigenous rights movement of the 1960s and 70s.

Immerwahr, Daniel, “The Greater United States: Territory and Empire in U.S. History,” Diplomatic History 40 (2016).
In this article, Immerwahr addresses the pitfalls of the historiography of American history and how to more effectively incorporate colonialism and imperialism into American history.

Lander, Edgardo, “The Discourse of Civil Society and Current Decolonization Struggles in South America,” in Jorge Heine and Ramesh Thakur (eds.), The Dark Side of Globalization, Brookings Institution Press (UN University Press), 2011.
In this chapter, Lander attempts both to characterize some broad historical problems in reference to Latin American debates and experiences related to democracy, citizenship and civil society, as well as present highlights of current conflicts related to these issues, with examples from Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Melstrom, Tina, “Saintly Patriotism: Vincente Graz and the Women of the Chilean Independence Movement,” Decimonónica 10, 1 (2013).
In this article, Melstrom focuses mainly on the works of Chilean writer Vincente Grez, who wrote about the women of the Chilean Independence Movement of 1810-1823. Melstrom argues that Grez, drawing heavily on the hagiographical genre of the medieval and early modern periods, wrote Chilean women as lay saints whose image contributed to the consolidation of Chilean national identity.

Meren, David, “An Atmosphere of Liberation: The Role of Decolonization in the France-Quebec Rapprochement of the 1960s,” Canadian Historical Review 92, 2 (2011).
It is impossible to understand the sequence of events within the Canada-Quebec-France triangle in the 1960s without reference to the anti-colonial rhetoric, ideas, and examples of international post-World War II resistance. In addition to influencing the post-war development of France and Quebec, the phenomenon of decolonization played a key role in the process of rapprochement, which began to increase between 1945 and 1945.

O’Neal, Jennifer, “‘The Right to Know’: Decolonizing Native American Archives,” Journal of   Western Archives 6, 1 (2015).
This work examines past and current policies regarding Native American archives, detailing the broader historic landscape of information services for tribal communities, the initiative to develop tribal archives in Indian Country, and the activism surrounding the proper care and management of Native American archive collections at non-Native repositories. Utilizing Vine Deloria’s “Right to Know” call to action, the paper analyzes major activities and achievements of the national indigenous archives movement with a specific focus on archival activists and tribal communities in the American West who were at the forefront of a grassroots movement to establish and develop tribal archives, return and secure tribal history and rights during the restoration era, and establish training and best practices for the respectful care of indigenous collections.

Simpson, Bradley, “The United States and the Curious History of Self-Determination,” Diplomatic History 36, 4 (2012).
In this article, Simpson traces the concept of “self-determination” in the United States from the eighteenth century onward. Simpson points out how, at various points in its history, the imperial United States often found itself in an ideological conundrum as it advocated for self-determination of non-threatening sovereign neighboring states while attempting to expand borders and influence.

Books and readers

Anthias, Penelope, Limits to Decolonization: Indigeneity, Territory and Hydrocarbon Politics in the Bolivian Chaco, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.
This book addresses one of the most important issues in contemporary indigenous politics: struggles for territory. Based on the experience of thirty-six Guaraní communities in the Bolivian Chaco, Anthias reveals how two decades of indigenous mapping and land titling have failed to reverse a historical trajectory of indigenous dispossession in the Bolivian lowlands.

Ari, Waskar, Earth Politics: Religion, Decolonization, and Bolivia’s Indigenous Intellectuals, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.
This book focuses on the lives of four indigenous activist-intellectuals in Bolivia, key leaders in the Alcaldes Mayores Particulares (AMP), a movement established to claim rights for indigenous education and reclaim indigenous lands from hacienda owners. The AMP leaders invented a discourse of decolonization, rooted in part in native religion, and used it to counter structures of internal colonialism, including the existing racial systems.

Bourbonnais, Nicole, Birth Control in the Decolonizing Caribbean: Reproductive Politics and Practice on Four Islands, 1930-1970, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Over the course of the twentieth century, campaigns to increase access to modern birth control methods spread across the globe and fundamentally altered the way people thought about and mobilized around reproduction. This book explores how a variety of actors translated this movement into practice on four islands (Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Bermuda) from the 1930s–70s. The process of decolonization during this period led to heightened clashes over imperial and national policy and brought local class, race, and gender tensions to the surface.

Brown, Matthew and Gabriel B. Paquette (eds.), Connections After Colonialism: Europe and Latin American in the 1820s, Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2013.
In the Atlantic World, the 1820s was a decade marked by the rupture of colonial relations, the independence of Latin America, and the ever-widening chasm between the Old World and the New. This essay collection builds upon recent advances in the history of colonialism and imperialism by studying former colonies and metropoles through the same analytical lens, as part of an attempt to understand the complex connections—political, economic, intellectual, and cultural—between Europe and Latin America that survived the demise of empire.

Buckner, Philip (ed.), Canada and the British Empire, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.
This collection of essays traces the evolution of Canada, placing it within the wider context of British imperial history. Beginning with a broad chronological narrative, the volume surveys the country’s history from the foundation of the first British bases in Canada in the early seventeenth century, until the patriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982.

Buckner, Philip and R. Douglas Francis (eds.), Canada and the British World: Culture, Migration, and Identity, Vancouver, BC, CA: University of British Columbia Press, 2006.
In a series of essays focusing on the social, cultural, and intellectual aspects of Canadians identity over more than a century, the complex and evolving relationship between Canada and the larger British World is revealed. Examining the transition from the strong belief of nineteenth-century Canadians in the British character of their country to the realities of modern multicultural Canada, this book eschews nostalgia in its endeavor to understand the dynamic and complicated society in which Canadians did and do live.

Champion, Christian P., The Strange Demise of British Canada: The Liberals and Canadian Nationalism, 1964-68Montreal, QB, CA: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
Using a fascinating array of personal papers, memoirs, and contemporary sources, this ground-breaking study demonstrates the ongoing influence of Britishness in Canada and showcases the personalities and views of some of the country’s most important political and cultural figures. An important study that provides a better understanding of Canada, The Strange Demise of British Canada also shows the lasting influence Britain has had on its former colonies across the globe.

Dubois, Lauren, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, London, UK: Macmillan, 2013.
As Dubois demonstrates, Haiti’s troubled present can only be understood by examining its complex past. The country’s difficulties are inextricably rooted in its founding revolution—the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world; the hostility that this rebellion generated among the surrounding colonial powers; and the intense struggle within Haiti itself to define its newfound freedom and realize its promise.

Igartua, Jose, The Other Quiet Revolution: National Identities in English Canada, 1945-71, Vancouver, BC, CA: University of British Columbia Press, 2006.
Igartua analyzes editorial opinion, political rhetoric, history textbooks, and public opinion polls to show how Canada’s self-conception as a British country extended into the 1950s. In the decade that followed, however, the British definition of Canada dissolved. Struggles with bilingualism and biculturalism, as well as Quebec’s constitutional demands, helped to fashion new representations of national identity in English-speaking Canada based on the civic principle of equality.

Luis-Brown, David, Waves of Decolonization: Discourses of Race and Hemispheric Citizenship in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
Luis-Brown reveals how between the 1880s and the 1930s, writer-activists in Cuba, Mexico, and the United States developed narratives and theories of decolonization, of full freedom and equality in the shadow of empire. They did so decades before the decolonization of Africa and Asia in the mid-twentieth century. Analyzing the work of nationalist leaders, novelists, and social scientists, including W. E. B. Du Bois, José Martí, Claude McKay, Luis-Brown brings together an array of thinkers who linked local struggles against racial oppression and imperialism to similar struggles in other nations.

Madokoro, Laura, Francine McKenzie and David Meren (eds.), Dominion of Race: Rethinking Canada’s International History, Vancouver, BC, CA: University of British Columbia Press, 2017.
This book exposes how race-thinking – normalizing racial differences and perpetuating them through words and actions that legitimize a discriminatory system of beliefs – has informed priorities and policies, positioned Canada in the international community, and contributed to a global order rooted in racial beliefs. By demonstrating that race is a fundamental component of Canada and its international history, this important book calls for reengagement with the histories of those marginalized in, or excluded from, the historical record.

Martinez, Oscar J., Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1994.
Based on firsthand interviews with individuals from all walks of life, this book presents case histories of transnational interaction and transculturation, and addresses the themes of cross-border migration, interdependence, labor, border management, ethnic confrontation, cultural fusion, and social activism. Here migrants and workers, functionaries and activists, and “mixers” who have crossed cultural boundaries recall events in their lives related to life on the border. Their stories show how their lives have been shaped by the borderlands milieu and how they have responded to the situations they have faced.

Parker, Jason, Brother’s Keeper: The United States, Race, and Empire in the British Caribbean, 1927-1962, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Parker’s international history of the peaceful transition in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago analyzes the roles of the United States, Britain, the West Indies, and the transnational African diaspora in the process, from its 1930s stirrings to its Cold War culmination. Grounded in exhaustive research conducted in seven countries, Brother’s Keeper offers an original rethinking of the relationship between the Cold War and Third World decolonization.

Parker, Jason, Hearts, Minds, Voices: U.S. Cold War Public Diplomacy and the Formation of the Third World, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Parker argues that the United States inadvertently helped to nurture the “Third World” as a transnational imagined community on the postwar global landscape through its use of strategic media and imperial rhetoric. Tracing US public diplomacy during the early years of the Cold War, this book narrates how US foreign policy engaged with and impacted the Global South and international history more broadly.

Rush, Anne Spry, Bonds of Empire: West Indians and Britishness from Victoria to Decolonization, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.
This book is part of a burgeoning literature that looks at the mutually reinforcing links between metropole and colonies. It examines the British identity of middle-class West Indians both at home and in the metropole from 1900 to the 1960s through a set of case studies: education, voluntary organization, wartime effort, radio broadcasting, and British royalty.

Simpson, Audra, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.
This book is a bold challenge to dominant thinking in the fields of Native studies and anthropology. Combining political theory with ethnographic research among the Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke, a reserve community in what is now southwestern Quebec, Simpson examines their struggles to articulate and maintain political sovereignty through centuries of settler colonialism.

Timm, Birte, Nationalists Abroad: The Jamaica Progressive League and the Foundations of Jamaican Independence, Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2016.
Timm successfully challenges the notion that demands for independence developed in Jamaica or had a strong local following. Instead, Timm posits and proves that the strongest impetus for anti-colonial demands came from a small group of expatriates in the USA whose ideas were met with strong and persistent skepticism at all levels of Jamaican society including the political elite. This work on the Jamaica Progressive League highlights how Jamaican emigrants who actively participated in the vibrant black transnational political movement in Harlem, New York – the Harlem Renaissance – influenced the political developments in their country of birth by capitalizing on the shifting international power relations of the time.

Van Young, Eric, The Other Rebellion: Popular Violence, Ideology, and the Mexican Struggle for Independence, 1810-1821, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.
Mexico’s movement toward independence from Spain was a key episode in the dissolution of the great Spanish Empire, and its accompanying armed conflict arguably the first great war of decolonization in the nineteenth century. This book argues that in addition to being a war of national liberation, the struggle was also an internal war pitting classes and ethnic groups against each other, an intensely localized struggle by rural people, especially Indians, for the preservation of their communities.

Ward, Thomas, Decolonizing Indigeneity: New Approaches to Latin American Literature, Lexington Books (Rowman and Littlefield), 2016.
Colonial representations of indigenous people continue on into the independence era and can still be detected in our time. The thesis of this book is that there are various ways to decolonize the representation of Amerindian peoples.

Witgen, Michael, An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
Through imaginative use of both Native language and European documents, Witgen recreates the world of the indigenous peoples who ruled the western interior of North America. The Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples of the Great Lakes and Northern Great Plains dominated the politics and political economy of these interconnected regions, which were pivotal to the fur trade and the emergent world economy. Moving between cycles of alliance and competition, and between peace and violence, the Anishinaabeg and Dakota carved out a place for Native peoples in modern North America, ensuring not only that they would survive as independent and distinct Native peoples but also that they would be a part of the new community of nations who made the New World.