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The terms 'colonization' and 'colonialism' are often confused. The first refers to a specific event that took place in the past and ended; the term “colonialism” refers to a dominant ideology, an ongoing phenomenon where a group of settlers exerts systemic power over Indigenous Peoples. The idea that “colonization” is a thing of the past benefits the status quo, the dominant colonialist ideology carried by the Canadian and Quebec states, for example ." -Nicholas Renaud [1]

When we talk about colonization (and not colonialism), we often refer to the “politico-economic phenomenon by which various European nations explored, conquered, colonized and exploited vast regions of the world already populated by Indigenous Peoples." -Stephanie Jeremie, La Forge

We focus here on colonialism and advocate the use of this term. Historically, colonialism was driven by a racist philosophy that certain groups were considered inferior. White people excluded them from their group, from their “race”, by assigning them to another group, another “race”. Race, and this idea of inferiority, is fictional; it is not based in any real differences other than skin colour. All the same, the effects of this categorization have caused dramatic harm for many human beings. Many people were and continue to be dehumanized by racialization, particularly through the colonialism it helped to justify.

There are five stages of colonialism: exploration, expropriation, appropriation, exploitation, and justification. All are necessary in order for colonialism to become an effective tool of domination. [2]

Types of colonialism

Latent colonialism

  • A colonialist and racist ethos has shaped the practices and policies on which our societies continue to grow. In addition, members of Euro-descendant societies have colonial baggage, or colonial biases that need to be undone through anti-oppressive education. Latent colonialism is unconscious. [3]

Overt colonialism
  • For members of Indigenous communities calling for decolonization, current colonialism is the realization of the extractive economy project by the modern state with the support of repressive authorities (police, army). [4]
  • Modern colonial projects are not unique to the European countries of the Global North. Indeed, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, supported by several countries in the Global North, is a good example. This colonialism aims at the violent appropriation of a territory already occupied by a population.  

Exploitation colonialism 

  • The trade and commerce like the export of goods, or the slave trade. [5]

Settler colonialism 

See settler colonialism.

For examples of consequences of colonialism, see our definitions page for anti-colonialism.

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  1. Nicholas Renaud, 2021. Introduction to First Peoples Studies [course notes]. School of Community and Public Affairs, Concordia University.
  2. doi:10.1017/asr.2018.85