Settler colonialism can be defined as a system of oppression based on genocide and colonialism, that aims to displace a population of a nation (oftentimes indigenous people) and replace it with a new settler population. Settler colonialism finds its foundations on a system of power perpetuated by settlers that represses indigenous people’s rights and cultures by erasing it and replacing it by their own.
Settler colonialism is based on the theft and exploitation of lands and resources that belong to the indigenous. History and current conflicts have shown that this ongoing system of oppression is mainly based on racism and white supremacy.
Oftentimes, settler colonialism is Eurocentric: it assumes that Europeans and their values are superior to other indigenous cultures, and that therefore it is legitimate to destroy indigenous people’s rights by stealing their lands and erasing their traditions.
Settler colonialism differs from classic colonialism in the following way: on the one hand, colonialism is the act of power and domination of one nation, by acquiring or maintaining full or partial political control over another sovereign nation. On the other hand, settler colonialism has an additional criterion that is the complete destruction and replacement of indigenous people and their cultures by the settler’s own in order to establish themselves as the rightful inhabitants. Therefore, settlers do not only exploit indigenous people’s lands and resources, but they displace them, modify the names of the cities and places they colonize in order to completely erase the indigenous’ tracks.
Scholar Patrick Wolfe defines settler colonialism as a system rather than a historical event, that perpetuates the erasure and destruction of native people as a precondition for settler colonialism and expropriation of lands and resources (Wolfe, Patrick. Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native. Journal of Genocide Research, December 2006, pp. 387-409).
An example of settler colonialism can be found in the History of Algeria. Between 1830 and 1962 (date of independence of Algeria), Algeria was considered a “French Department.”
Unlike other French colonies (Haiti, Ivory Cost, etc), Algeria was annexed and made officially a part of France in 1848. The French’s aim was to make Algeria a part of France by erasing the Indigenous’ rights and displacing them from their lands. Atrocious crimes were committed by French colonial authorities in Algeria throughout the 132 years of colonization. Five million indigenous Algerians were killed and crimes including torture, murder, rape, the displacement of indigenous people, nuclear tests, land theft, and denial of the most basic rights were committed against the Indigenous population.
A lot of Algerian cities saw their names changed in order to be “Francized” (i.e. forced to adopt French customs and the French language). For instance, the name of the capital of Algeria, Algiers (in Arabic Al-Jazaïr) was changed into La Pointe-Pescade. Other examples include the following: Bologine became Saint-Eugène, Tamanrasset became Fort-Laperrine and Tadjena became Fromentin. This demonstrates that the main objective of settler colonialism is to totally erase the culture of indigenous’ people and destroy their legacy.
The French laws that applied in Algeria discriminated against Indigenous nations and privileged the white Europeans rights over those of the majority Indigenous nations. In fact, different laws applied to Muslims in Algeria, whom for example were not allowed to vote, whereas white French people were allowed to.
[Last updated in May of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]