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 An Indigenous Perspective on the War on Terrorism
 Mike Krebs, Canada (Blackfoot)
 November 13, 2001
 
About a year ago, I went to an event that featured two people, one Palestinian and one Israeli, who were both speaking about the continued occupation of Palestine. They displayed a map of the West Bank on an overhead projector and were showing how the Palestinian land is divided up by numerous Israeli highways and settlements. They showed how Palestinian cities and towns were totally separated from one another, and explained how, for Palestinians, traveling between cities is very restricted at the best of times, impossible at the worst. As I looked at this map, I was reminded of the maps I have showing the traditional territory of the Blackfoot, and how that land looks today, carved up by white settlements into a number of reservations.

The Israeli Military checkpoints set up throughout the West Bank, where Palestinians are routinely harassed, also reminded me of the old "pass system," which came into being about ten years after the Blackfoot signed Treaty 7 with the Canadian government. Under this system, Blackfoot people needed to obtain a permit from a white Indian agent to leave their reservation. The person who obtained the "pass" had to state the purpose of their trip and return within a specified time. Those who left their reservation without a permit or did not return before the permit expired were arrested or forced to work for the Indian agent without pay. The days of the Canadian "pass system" are now over, but its use as a tool of colonization lives on in the West Bank.

People often compare the situation of Palestinians to that of the apartheid system in South Africa, and while it is a justified comparison, I think it is also important to realize that the apartheid system was based on the Canadian reservation system.

The Canadian government profited by advising and selling information to the South African government about their "success" with Native people, not just the reservation system but also the residential school model of cultural assimilation.

These connections between Palestinians and Indigenous people in North America exist because it is the same Western imperialism that causes and perpetuates these conditions. When the Israeli government bulldozes Palestinian homes, it is the same as when Native people were forced by the US and Canadian governments onto reservations, hoping that eventually we would either be exterminated or assimilated. Both of these situations involve depriving an Indigenous people the right to have control over their land and resources, by any means necessary.

In North America, this imperialist agenda involves rapidly switching from the pen to the sword when things like treaties and international law get in the way of colonization, as we saw in 1995 when thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired into a Sundance site at Gustafson Lake. Before this, we saw it in the military assault on Mohawk communities near Oka in 1990. More recently the Canadian government, in violation of Supreme Court decisions and treaties with the MicMaq, used brute force to prevent Indigenous people from fishing lobster.

This blatant disregard for international law continues when the US and Canadian governments bomb a third world country like Afghanistan. We see the same hypocrisy when the US military, after dislocating millions of people from their means of sustenance by threatening war, drops a minuscule amount of food packets onto ground riddled with landmines. For Indigenous people in North America this is all too reminiscent of the grossly inadequate "rations" system the government set up after wiping out our traditional food stocks and starving millions of us to death. Much of the meat rations given to the Blackfoot and other Indigenous people were from cattle infected with anthrax, so the current "scare" over biological warfare is nothing new either.

All US/Canadian attacks on a people, whether against Afghan or Apache, Iraqi or Iroquois, are about the imperialist power gaining access to the resources of other people. In North America, it is primarily about land, and from there, any possible resource of Indigenous people is or has been exploited. This includes everything from forced labour to medicinal knowledge, from minerals to animal pelts, from fish to "West Coast" art. On Blackfoot land, corporations extract millions of dollars in oil every year with very little, if any, of the profits shared with the traditional inhabitants of the area. Much like in the oil-rich Middle East countries, a small elite of Natives is created to ensure a stable flow of materials out of the ground and into the hands of multinational oil companies. This is a crucial part of current imperialist strategy, where the "puppet regimes" do much of the dirty work for corporations in exchange for a small piece of the pie.

Another key aspect of Western colonization is the ideological justification for the atrocities it commits. For the settling of Canada and the US, Indigenous cultures and beliefs were presented as inferior to those of Western Civilization. It was not too long ago that the Potlatch, Sundance, and other traditional practices were illegal and banned by the Canadian government as "witchcraft." To extinguish Indigenous people and their way of life was the "manifest destiny," to carry out God's will and fight for the inevitable victory over "heathenism." Again, we are seeing imperialism repeat and reconstruct itself today in the attacks on Afghanistan, where the language of "infinite justice" and a war between "good" and "evil" turn the killing of innocent people into an act of heroic morality. The anti-Islamic media we have been subjected to in the last few decades is the grandson of the "Cowboys and Indians" movies of a previous era, and its effect on the minds and actions of white North Americans is basically the same. The horrible acts of September 11th should not be used to fuel even more horrible acts of imperialist aggression. The stronger the US and Canada get, the further away we are from seeing an end to oppression against Indigenous people. It is crucial for Natives to oppose the "war against terrorism," and ask why we should respect the "sovereignty" of illegitimate governments who obviously don't respect ours.

Mike Feder works with the Anti-Poverty Committee, a radical group that was formed in January 2002, in response to attacks on poor and working people, which have intensified under the current BC Liberal Government.

From Red Wire Magazine (Vancouver). Originally appeared as "Oka to Bethlehem: The War on Indigenous Peoples Worldwide," in The Peak (SFU), vol. 109, issue 11, November 13, 200l, which is Simon Fraser University’s student newspaper.