How are we – Israel, North America, and Indigenous peoples – similar?
In my article to the op-ed section in our last issue on the importance of journalism I mentioned that being against genocide seemed to be something that people had to be scared of, specifically in regard to the situation in Palestine that is being perpetrated by Israel.
There are documented cases of people in Canada (a supposedly progressive and Indigenous-friendly country) being fired or targeted after voicing support for Palestine and Palestinians.
I’m going to preface this piece with the fact that obviously I don’t speak for all Indigenous peoples, but for simplicity’s sake I will be using “we.” In this article, I would simply like to address some things which I worry many may be unaware of. Also, if you are curious how this topic relates to culture, please examine the fact that the country we live in has a similar history to Palestine and Israel.
Indigenous people being pushed out of their homelands through unimaginable fear and violence, with the support of much wealthier and globally dominant countries. In both Americas and Palestine, this is how genocide has historically been and is currently being conducted.
There is also the matter of the creation of treaties or agreements at the request of European immigrants or the Crown. We experience the refusal to adhere to, or bad-faith interpretations of, those same treaties or agreements.
Then the creation of a government to manage the land and govern the people on the land that was never supposed to belong to anyone. Although in a Disney movie about a story which never should have been romanticized, the quote: “You think you own whatever land you land on, the earth is just a dead thing you can claim,” is incredibly powerful and true.
If you’re curious why that movie should never have been romanticized, Pocahontas is based off the story of Matoaka. Matoaka was a pre-teen child who was taken across the ocean to Britain, where she eventually died of a sickness at 21.
Please also consider the horrific attitudes which pervaded our country and which still exist today, leading to the kidnapping and killing of Indigenous people across the country. There is proof that some of these from the past were committed by our police services (look up “starlight tours” to learn more).
Despite work to ensure these do not continue, there are still cases believed to be perpetrated by those who are supposed to be investigating and even preventing these disappearances and murders. These same attitudes are seen in TikTok videos posted by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, which were used as evidence in the recent case presented by South Africa in the International Court of Justice.
Before people wanted to kill Indigenous people for the simple fact that they are living on land someone in power wants, or simply because they are Indigenous, we had good relations with Europeans.
We would trade with them, we would teach them how to live off the land, how to respect the land, and we would include them in our communities. But then people got greedy, they got angry, and they needed someone to take it out on.
In the incredible book Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing by Suzanne Methot, in the first few pages even, there is an estimation of how many Indigenous people lived in the Americas pre-contact, and how many lived here after. It is estimated that there were 100 million Indigenous people living in the Americas pre-contact.
Do you want to guess how many lived here after? Here’s your chance…
The answer is that after only 250 years, 90 per cent of the Indigenous population had been erased, leaving only 10 million of us. This is comparable to the current population of Palestinians throughout the world, at 14.3 million people according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
It would, in fact, be worse for Palestinians if Israel’s leaders have their plans unfold as they wish, since they will be down to 8.95 million, as there were an estimated 5.35 million Palestinians in Palestine.
Water is sacred, land is sacred, people are sacred, knowledge is sacred, language is sacred, culture is sacred. These ideas are interconnected, as are all things which live on the land.
The quote by Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee in 2006 describes the importance of land, language, and culture to each other: “Language is the expression of our culture and our land. We cannot have one without the others. We cannot describe our culture and our land if we do not have language.”
Indigenous people do not normally hurt that which we need to survive. Colonizers, however, do. Take into consideration the pipelines Indigenous people protest against and why they do that, and then look at what Israel has done to the land and the water in Palestine.
Our governments do not wish to condemn the actions of Israel and do not wish to show approval of Palestinians attempts to regain control of the land they care for and have lived on for millenia because they understand that this is a matter of Indigenous people being against colonization.
They do not wish to condemn the actions of Israel and prevent Israel from killing Palestinians because they understand that they do the same thing to us when we attempt to regain control of the land we care for or when we stand up for our rights as people.
They are aware that this is a matter of Indigenous people wanting to be done with colonization and that they could be, or are, next. They are aware that showing support for Palestinians could embolden the Indigenous peoples of the countries they preside over.
Something I think they don’t understand, however, or at least I hope they don’t because the alternative is heartbreaking, is that we don’t want to be above them. What we want is for us as people and the earth, animals, and water we survive off of to be respected.
We don’t want everyone to “go back to where you came from,” as Indigenous people have been told by White people, when in fact we are exactly where we came from, or as close to it as we can be. We want peace, we want safety, and we want respect. Things which are not so different from what many others in the world want.
We don’t want everyone to speak the same language as us or practice the same religions or adhere to the same beliefs we do. We want to keep our languages alive and we want to preserve our cultures.
It is at least a little odd though that our languages are not recognized as official languages of the land we inhabited before anyone else, and that learning them is not an opportunity available to everyone, not even here at this, the University of Regina.