No one with half a mind would celebrate the killing of any human being, and we have all felt a gut-wrenching sense of powerlessness as we witnessed the massacres committed by Hamas and the continuing brutality of the state of Israel against Palestinians.
It is the elite, the privileged few, who get to decide who is entitled to human rights, while all others deemed undesirable are criminalized, dehumanized, and villainized. As we listen to leaders from the international community assert their loyalties, it's clear that the wheel of history repeats itself, and that the international community has learned nothing from past patterns of oppression, colonialism, and genocide.
Colonialism is still going strong here and around the world
There is also a misconception in this country that colonialism is a thing of the past, that it is over and done with, and that we must now live with its impacts. This brain fog persists in Canada, where school curricula reduce Indigenous history to a footnote.
Indigenous people see the parallels with Palestinians, both the resistance struggles, as well as the colonial violence imposed by the state, often with the aim of grabbing more and more land.
In 1990, during the siege of two Kanien’kehá:ka communities, residents of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawàke were denied our fundamental human rights. We were demonized, criminalized, and treated as subhuman, echoing historical stereotypes left over from colonial propaganda that were used to justify Indigenous land dispossession.
The siege, and the state-inflicted violence that followed, was deployed over a settler golf course and condos. Two Mohawk communities were denied food, water, and medicine, and the free movement of community members traveling in and out of the community.
We were outgunned, outnumbered, and powerless to defend ourselves once the Canadian Army moved in, and many would not leave our homes. The violation of our human rights was rationalized to the public because we were viewed as criminals — and, like Palestinians, our communities under siege were accused of using women and children as human shields. Those who did not evacuate were considered collateral damage.
How was this act of genocide accepted and relegated to history? Sadly, only Onkwehón:we (Indigenous peoples) still actively fight to prevent the erasure of this act of war by Canada and Quebec.
While the siege officially lasted for 78 days, the occupation lasted much longer than the dismantling of the barricades, and the scars remain to this day. Negotiations were disingenuous and there were no promises to discuss long-standing historical issues. Traumatic events remain with you forever, and as Indigenous peoples know, multigenerational trauma is carried by each subsequent generation. One can heal from it, but not when there is a constant barrage of bureaucratic laws and systemic racism.
There were more Canadian troops on Kanien’kehá:ka lands than were sent to Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm. For the Kanien’kehá:ka, our struggle is over 300 years old, but in 1990, the Canadian state's disproportional and violent repression sent a message to Indigenous peoples that they would be punished if they resisted. This message was taken to heart by many.
The universal language of the colonial playbook
Listening to political leaders define who the good and bad actors are in a colonial conflict is mind-numbing. While guilt can be placed on either side, state propaganda is biased, as those who have money and power have always been able to buy the sympathy of the masses.
Like any colonized person whose homelands are occupied, feeling optimistic that justice will prevail is intertwined with feeling powerless and hopeless. As a major colonizer, Canada is stuck in a bubble of cognitive dissonance regarding the acts of genocide it committed against Indigenous peoples. This brain fog continues to deny the ‘colonized’ our dignity and quality of life — and that we deserve anything but peace, power, and hope.
Dehumanization is a fundamental component of the colonial playbook. Calling human beings “animals,” and “savages” as if in some demented way we do not feel pain, bleed, or grieve, adds to the hysteria and sends the message they are unworthy of humane treatment and basic dignity, and that will never bring peace.
Unfeeling warmongers weaponize words that doom children and the vulnerable as the war machine rages on. If anything is certain, it’s that we should not believe what we hear from politicians.
Rhetoric about “reconciliation” is merely words without action. The process of restitution, reconciliation, and reparations is placed upon the shoulders of Indigenous peoples themselves, while Canada turns its back on true justice, Land Back, and the responsibility of teaching its youth the true history of its founding. But Canada, like Israel, deals in genocide. Both are occupied settler-colonial states forcibly removing an identifiable group of people from their homelands.
Gaza did not happen overnight. The occupation has been going on for decades. So many lives have already been lost and it is an area that has rarely seen peace. The context of colonial oppression must never be forgotten when we look at what is happening today.
Choosing a side is not the issue, especially for those of us watching this tragedy in Gaza and Israel unfold. Calling for the violence and bombings to end is not anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim. It is horrifying to watch helplessly, and tragic to realize that those who could stop this madness choose instead to repeat their patterns of damaging rhetoric.
Those who are honest know that neither Hamas, nor the settler colonial state of Israel and their supporters, are right.
A kinship with the occupied
As UN member states jump on the bandwagon of this genocidal war, how powerless the Palestinians of Gaza must feel. For Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island who have survived the low-intensity warfare of colonial states like Canada for centuries, feeling powerless is a daily occurrence.
We have neither the resources nor the power to make decisions: we are excluded from controlling our lives and homelands.
Years after a court-ordered apology by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for the genocidal Indian Residential School system, we are no closer to achieving peace or justice of any kind. The colonially-rooted social problems of Indigenous peoples still scar our realities, and healing from genocide will take generations.
Like most dispossessed who have no control over our lives, we fight back by trying to follow the rules of the colonizer to create a peaceful co-existence. Discussions to educate, and to create real change are unwelcome, unless they promote the colonizers’ agenda. But we persevere, lest we be accused of being “inherently violent” and not open to "productive discussions.”
Ignoring the roots of conflicts perpetuates ignorance and hate. Let’s be clear from the start: Violence is always initiated by oppressors who defy laws, agreements, treaties, and human rights obligations. The dispossessed are not granted human rights because they are deemed deviant and violent.
Warmongers feed on fear, hiding behind the mantle of a self-righteous and flawed concept of “democracy.” The law is always on their side, while hawkish media voices indoctrinate the population. Dehumanizing the “other” is a form of violence that is persistently used to justify the killing of those who stand in the way of state and corporate agendas.
Canada’s own reserve system was the actual blueprint for apartheid in South Africa, a system of institutional racial segregation in place from 1948 into the 1990s. It subjugated the majority Black South African population under white minority rule by colonizers who considered the non-white population unworthy of any quality of life. The Indian Act in Canada has been an inspiration for many fascists whose economic agendas are based on racist ideologies and doctrines of superiority.
Canada’s reserve system was designed to remove Indigenous peoples from their homelands to make way for settlers. As a result of this, settlers living close to Indigenous peoples viewed us as a nuisance, as subhuman. The solution was to remove us from our homelands through violence. Thus, attacking and disrupting our relationship with our homelands, our culture, languages, and ceremonies to honour Mother Earth.
Imagine being a parent and being unable to protect your child against any form of state violence, or even from authorities kidnapping your child. This happens under a state that neither sees you as human nor worthy of peace and security.
Canada has never repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery on which it has based its false and racist claims to Indigenous lands.
So it’s not surprising that a state whose governance is founded on racist ideologies fails to uphold human rights standards and brazenly ignores international law when it comes time to hold Israel to account.
The impacts of low-intensity warfare on the colonized and a longing for peace
The Indian Residential School system stripped Indigenous peoples of their humanity, and their dignity, and stole a generation of children who would have become our artists, our orators, and our creators of a better world. The ideology that Indigenous peoples were and are inferior to the colonizers is founded on doctrines that have poisoned the minds of multiple generations.
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, created in 1948 after the Second World War, was written so the world would not make the same mistakes after the atrocities committed by the Nazis. To state that everyone has a right to live in peace, and for children to be given the chance to grow up with safety and human rights may seem like a lofty ideal, but it is the foundation of international law.
During the 1990 siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawake, people of different backgrounds took to the streets to protest against Canada and Quebec’s treatment of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. Québecois, Canadians, Indigenous peoples, Palestinians, Jews, and people from many other backgrounds supported our calls for justice and peace. Those protests helped quell the trigger fingers of callous politicians chomping at the bit to launch a full-scale military assault. The fact that this was happening in Canada, a purported leader in international human rights, was shocking to its citizens.
As we all turn our gaze to the tragedy unfolding in Gaza and Israel, it is important to note that both sides have a right to live in peace with full equality and human rights. Palestinians are not represented by Hamas. Jews are not represented by the state of Israel. As human beings, we are all sovereign over our own lives. No one has a right to take that from us.
A human rights-based approach using international standards is needed. It is the only way to finally achieve peace. Witnessing a genocide happening live on TV is painful and demands action by those who still believe that we are all one family of humankind. Separate in our beliefs, our languages, and our customs, but united in our quest for peace for all.
If history has shown us anything, it is the authoritarians who get to decide how the rule of law is applied. They decide who is a criminal, who is a terrorist, and who is worthy of having their human rights protected.
But what is the real truth, what is justice, and where are the stories of the dispossessed in history?
The dispossessed are continuously stripped of their humanity, their children forced to be combatants in an endless war that continues for generations.
Today we are witnessing a situation reminiscent of the dark days of Nazi Germany, with no concern for human lives, even when they are children's lives.
No one with any humanity can condone what is happening in Gaza and Israel. Forced to choose sides, I choose peace and human rights for everyone.