Workshop Wednesday: The Taking Tree (2018 Version)

The Taking Tree is a visual tool for sighted folks that can be drawn piece-by-piece or used as a poster/handout to give a rough overview of the rise of oppression in North America. The purpose of this tool is to show the many intersectional moving parts of how oppression grows and works over time. For a more in-depth version of the Taking Tree, check out the 2015 Prezi version, which is linked further below. For this simpler version, you can use it to explain the following concepts:

  • oppression in North America grows from Western empire
  • empire held supremacies that were and are enacted through violence against those that aren’t able-bodied, neurotypical, non-intersex, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, upper class, anglophone, etc., etc.
  • empire continues to grow and “take” through global corporate capitalism and colonialism
  • empire grows institutions (economic, government, medical, educational, legal, military, police, media, etc) which then provide social mechanisms of “order” and “prosperity” to be accessed by the people who live off of the tree
  • when people fall on the “right” side of one or more of the supremacies of empire, they attain some form of safety, prosperity, and social advantage, i.e. privilege, from the institutions
  • when people fall on the “wrong” side of one or more of the supremacies of empire, they face numerous kinds of violence and barriers, i.e. oppression, from the institutions
  • many people are not aware that institutions can be poisonous to some and not poisonous to others because the roots/supremacies are under ground, i.e. hidden
  • empire allegedly welcomes all people to live off of its fruits, but it’s actually a false “sign” in an attempt to hide the supremacies while enticing people to, unknowingly, become part of “inferior” groups that oppressors or privileged folks can be “superior” over
  • cultural appropriation occurs when the vampiric roots take the essence from other cultures and those cultural artifacts appear on the Taking Tree but are poisonous/inaccessible to the very people it came from because it passes through the supremacist roots and can now only be accessed by those privileged by empire
  • each oppression root is similar and intersectional in that they all work on an oppressive “logic”, grow from a shared history of empire, and corrupt institutions
  • each oppression root is different because each supremacy and violence is different and people can experience more than one root at the same time (for example, Orientalism targets people considered from the “East” for war while misogyny targets people considered female and/or feminine for servitude to those considered male and/or masculine– and those who are impacted by both Orientalism and misogyny can be sought as “war trophies” that need liberating or they need to be fought in order to serve)


I learned The Taking Tree while preparing to co-facilitate my first anti-oppression workshop with Reem Girgrah and Casper in the summer of 2010 on unceded Algonquin territory, Ottawa, Canada. Reem taught me a more bare-bones version of the tool that just described the roots, the trunk, and the branches/fruit. She said it came from an Internet source, but we haven’t been able to find out what it was, after all these years. A similar tree, called The Tree of Colonial Oppression, was published in Honouring Indigenous Women: Hearts of Nations (Vol. 1) booklet in 2011 by Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa (IPSMO). There is also a similar Oppression Tree used in workshops for McGill University Residences first year students, but the earliest version I can find is dated 2014. It’s possible that all these trees have a common origin in the Ottawa-Montreal area, or originated from the contributors to the IPSMO booklet a year before it was published. If folks come up with a specific origin, I will attribute and credit appropriately. The seed, fangs, and sign of the Taking Tree, as far as I can tell, I came up with originally.

Activity Ideas

While presenting the Taking Tree, you can interact with participants in the following ways:

  • tell the Taking Tree as a story, starting from the seed, to the roots, to the trunk, to the fruit, to the sign and the fangs
  • ask folks to name different oppressions when you get to the part of the roots
  • ask folks to name different institutions when you get to the trunk
  • ask folks to name different social problems and privileges based on oppressive institutions when you get to the poisoned fruit
  • ask folks to describe how they would stop an actual vampiric tree, and then try to brainstorm how their metaphors can be translated into direct action and reality

Poster Description

The poster has a dark grey tree with sickly green leaves and pale grey fruit. Under a rough brown line that represents the ground, it shows a red seed at the centre of the tree, and dark grey roots continue downwards. The roots have tiny red mouths with white fangs in them. There are two grey and red arrows that show that the roots are moving outwards underground. There is a grey sign which reads “All Welcome*”. The title of the poster reads “THE TAKING TREE: The Rise of Oppression in North America”. Text near the fruit read “FRUIT IS POISONOUS TO SOME, AND NUTRITIOUS TO OTHERS” and “FRUIT = UNEARNED SOCIAL DISADVANTAGES AND ADVANTAGES”. Near the trunk the text reads “TRUNK = INSTITUTIONS”. Near the seed text reads “SEED = EMPIRE”. To the right of the root network text reads “FANGS & MOVEMENT = CAPITALISM AND COLONIALISM”. To the left of the root network text reads “ROOTS = OPPRESSIVE “LOGIC” (SUPREMACY + VIOLENCE)”. At the bottom of the root network red text reads “THE TREE GROWS BY TAKING THE ESSENCE OUT OF OTHER “TREES”, I.E. CULTURES/NATIONS”. At the bottom of the poster, it reads “” and ““.

Link to The Taking Tree Prezi (2015 Version)

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