Language as a Knotted Fist: Resisting & Empowering through the Power of Words

Language as a Knotted Fist: Resisting & Empowering through the Power of Words

Language is one of the most potent tools used to shape a society’s culture, identity, and world-view. Historically, colonial powers exploited language as a tool to perpetuate oppression and exert dominion over indigenous populations. This blog aims to delve into the effects of this weaponization of language on indigenous peoples while promoting anti-racism, with resources including the insightful works of Angela Davis.

Language as a Colonial Weapon

When colonizers arrived on foreign shores, they brought not only material goods but also their language, enforced as a dominant means of communication. This imposition was justified under the notion of “civilizing” indigenous populations. The subtleties in the connotations and implications in these languages often led to skewed interpretations of indigenous cultures and knowledge systems, further victimizing these communities.

For example, in Canada, the indigenous peoples had to grapple with restrictive stipulations of the Indian Act, which included prohibitions against speaking their native languages and performing traditional ceremonies like the Potlatch. This wasn't mere legislation; it amounted to cultural genocide, suppressing the expressive legacies of entire civilizations.

Resistance: A Linguistic Uprising

Language isn't merely a collection of sounds and symbols; it is a profound reflection of our identity, a shout of defiance and resilience in the face of adversity. When colonial forces tried to smother indigenous languages in a twisted attempt to erase vibrant cultures and assimilate indigenous peoples into a uniform, palatable mold, they faced an unanticipated obstacle. That obstacle: Language as a tool of resistance.

In the shadow of oppression, language transformation bristled with the power of rebellion. Indigenous cultures, faced with the threat of cultural dissipation, began to find a way back to their roots and legacies through the medium of their ancestral languages—their words, their stories, their songs. Language served as both a shelter and a sword; it was an intimate space of comfort, a celestial highway leading home, and at the same time, a weapon brandished against the silent decimation of their unique cultural identities.

Indeed, language became a symbol for the irrefragable spirit of the indigenous peoples. Through the revival and maintenance of their traditional languages, indigenous societies stirred up an act of stupendous defiance. Each word spoken in their native tongue was a rebellion—an affirmation of the existence and resilience of their unique cultures in the face of brutal annihilation attempts, an assertion of identity and freedom that refused to be shackled by colonial dominance.

And thus, the languages of indigenous peoples transformed into an edifice of empowerment, constantly resisting the external forces that sought to tear it down. This power of language defies the physical; it echoes in the spiritual, altering the sociopolitical landscape, altering mindsets, altering futures—standing as an unyielding symbol of resistance, persistence, and above all, a testament to the tremendous power of the human spirit. So when we think about language, let us think about more than mere words. Let’s recognize it for what it truly is: a beacon of hope, a call to arms, and the very heartbeat of cultures that refuse to be silenced.

Anti-racist Literature: A Road to Empathy

Education and literature play crucial roles in unearthing the deeply-embedded prejudices against indigenous people and fostering empathy. Pioneers like Angela Davis have made significant contributions in this context. Her books like "Women, Race & Class" and "Are Prisons Obsolete?" are essential reading. They provide in-depth analyses of racism from various social aspects and inspire readers to actively participate in the fight against this systemic oppression.

While language can be used as a tool of oppression, it has the potential to become a medium of empowerment and resistance. As we move forward, it becomes critically essential to ensure that indigenous languages are preserved and respected alongside efforts to dismantle systems of oppression that cast a shadow over these rich cultures.


  1. Davis, Angela. (1981). Women, Race & Class. Random House, USA. Link
  2. Davis, Angela. (2003). Are Prisons Obsolete?. Seven Stories Press, USA. Link
  3. King, Thomas. (2012). The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Anchor Canada. Link
  4. Sayedayn, Sayeh (2021). Language & Colonization: Statement of the Problem. Link
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