By Marion Kawas
Palestinian solidarity with indigenous struggles here in Turtle Island was highlighted last week, with both local and international Palestinian support for the Wet’suwet’en nation’s struggle on unceded territory in British Columbia.
The BDS National Committee (BNC) released a powerful statement at the same time as diaspora Palestinians in Vancouver sent greetings to the daily #WetsuwetenStrong protest in that city. Both emphasized the brave and tireless resistance of the indigenous defenders, with the BNC noting that Palestinians owe them “a great debt for teaching us how to resist settler colonialism generation after generation through your powerful resistance, grace and indomitable spirit”.
But these strong expressions of Palestinian support are not new and have a long and rich history.
Mahmoud Darwish’s iconic and epic poem, “The Penultimate Speech of the ‘Red Indian’ to the White Man,” is one early example of the modern Palestinian resistance movement’s link with indigenous issues. Some verses of that poem have been put to music by Roger Waters in a segment appropriately entitled “Supremacy”.
Russell Means, leader of the American Indian Movement, also wrote a poem in response to Darwish, entitled “The Song of the Palestinian”. In fact, solidarity delegations of AIM visited Beirut in the 1970s and were welcomed at many Palestinian offices and centers.
Mahmoud Darwish was in Vancouver, Canada in 1976 as part of the Palestinian delegation to the UN-Habitat Conference. At a packed public meeting organized by local activists, he appeared on stage to recite his poetry along with celebrated indigenous poet Lee Maracle. He read several of his poems, and she presented the English translation of “Write Down, I am an Arab” for the audience.
Maracle, who is now a celebrated indigenous poet, has spoken often of her involvement in that meeting and of her great affinity with the Palestinian people and their struggle; she has included this theme in her own poetry as well, including writing a poem “Remembering Mahmoud” honoring Darwish after he passed.
That same year, indigenous activists in Vancouver were also protesting the arrest and later extradition of Leonard Peltier. Peltier had been part of the 1973 resistance to the US military siege on Pine Ridge, but was falsely accused of murdering an FBI agent. He came to Canada, was jailed and later handed over to the US government, where he was incarcerated and remains to this day.
Weekly protests were held in 1976 to support Peltier, and Palestinians were there to support those actions. An article from the Native Study Group in a newsletter of the day “Palestine in Struggle”, highlighted Peltier’s case and showed why solidarity between all indigenous struggles is critical.
In 2012, there was a strong statement of support from Palestinians with the IdleNoMore movement and indigenous rights. Multiple organizations and individuals signed on to show the depth of support and understanding between the two struggles.
They said in part:
“We recognize the deep connections and similarities between the experiences of our peoples – settler colonialism, destruction and exploitation of our land and resources, denial of our identity and rights, genocide and attempted genocide.”
Indigenous activists from Canada have been part of the Gaza Flotilla multiple times. Both Robert Lovelace and more recently, Larry Commodore, sailed on Boat to Gaza vessels in solidarity with the Palestinians. Larry, in particular, was treated brutally and injured by the Israeli military upon his arrest from the al Awda in 2018.
Solidarity between Palestinian and Mohawk activists also has a long history across Canada. There are many examples of mutual support, with Mohawk flags being seen at Palestinian demos and Palestinian flags flying high on Six Nations land.
One activist, the late Splitting the Sky (John Boncore), who was part of the Gustafsen Lake standoff, was also pivotal in furthering indigenous solidarity in British Columbia. He joined the parents of Rachel Corrie and others on a Vancouver stage in 2003 in a remarkable meeting to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians.
Slogans such as “Sovereign Forever, Never Surrender” and “If you deny our Existence, Expect our Resistance” have been highlighted in the #WetsuwetenStrong protests. These slogans also resonate completely with the current phase of the Palestinian struggle, as Palestinians deal with Trump’s apartheid plan and the crushing vision for the future it embodies.
The bonds of shared trauma, shared resistance to settler colonialism and the enduring spirit of defending the land will keep the solidarity between Palestinians and the indigenous people of Turtle Island alive for generations.
– Marion Kawas is a member of the Canada Palestine Association and co-host of Voice of Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.cpavancouver.org.