“Palestine, that’s none of our business.” Or so some may think and say.
The genocide unfolding in Palestine has been intensifying over the last five years and particularly over the last few weeks. Why you ask, should Indigenous people in the Americas be concerned or vocal about these atrocities?
A quick and simple answer would be that, what’s happening in Palestine is the same as what has happened and is happening to our people here in Turtle Island. What has to be looked at is the politics of colonialism and settlerism.
As Indigenous people we have endured centuries of genocide, ethnic cleansing, land theft and cultural devastation. As Haudenosaunee peoples we need not look too hard for these examples; we only need to look at the ethnic cleansing of our people in the 18th and 19th centuries from our homelands in what is now New York State.
Our ancestors gave a name to George Washington, the first President of the USA, Ratinokwatek:a, village burner. Our Nakba (Catastrophe in Arabic) is not unique. There are many, too many, points in the history of Indigenous people in the Americas that mirror the genocide of Palestinians.
The trail of tears and the ethnic cleansing of Cherokee country in 1838-39, the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, the US military campaign against the Niimíipu (Nez Percé) in 1876-77, the Wounded Knee Massacre 1890, the list goes on.
Ancient history, some might say, but the reality is that we, as Indigenous people, still suffer the effects of these events. The settler states of both Canada and the United States have done the same to North American Indigenous people as has been done to the Africans in South Africa and Indigenous people in Australia. Settler apartheid as used by Israelis has its roots in both the Canadian apartheid system – the Indian Act – and the South African Apartheid system. There is little to distinguish either from one another.
Monocultural dominance is the norm here in Canada, where you assimilate and speak English or French. For Palestinians living outside of the West Bank and Gaza, living in so-called Israel, conformity to Israeli culture is the norm and, as here in Canada, they too are reviled by their oppressors. Although the levels of brutality aren’t the same as in occupied Palestine, the Canadian state has never been afraid to employ violence against Indigenous dissent as can be seen in what happened at Kanehsatake in 1990, Gustafsen Lake in 1995, Burnt Church in 1999, or in Six Nations in 2006.
The brutality of the occupation of A’nowarakowa Kawenoke (Great Turtle Island) has had its time: the great darkness that our ancestors suffered with war, disease and cultural death. We endured and now are existing at the end stage of colonization, whereas Palestine is still in its mid stages of colonization, as I once explained to a dear Palestinian friend.
It is no surprise that Stephen Harper and his government support the genocide of Palestinians – they have to. They have to because if they recognize the colonization and genocide against Palestine they must then confront their own history of genocide against Onkwehonwe. Given the deliberate delusions of Stephen Harper who claimed that “Canada does not have a colonial past” it is not surprising and in accordance with Zionist interpretations that Palestinians are a fictive population and people. Rather, they dispute that they are even human, and therefore killing them is righteous. There was a time that the same was said of Indigenous peoples here by settlers. Some still treat Indigenous people as sub-humans not deserving of life as is the sad case with the over one thousand murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada.
The liberation of Palestine and its people’s rights to self determination, life, comfort and happiness in their own land is connected and no different to Indigenous struggles for self-determination, freedom, land and happiness here. The oppression and genocide of Palestine is our oppression and genocide.
Clifton Arihwakehte Nicholas is a filmmaker and lecturer from Kanehsatake Mohawk Territory.