Tag Archives: Settler Colonialism

Decolonization is a global project: From Palestine to the Americas

Editorial by Linda Tabar & Chandni Desa, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, Vol. 6, No. 1

This special issue brings Palestine into conversation with Settler Colonial Studies, Critical Indigenous Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, other critical scholarship and political practices. In doing so, we write in opposition to the way in which Palestine is often taken up and framed in the mainstream media and academic scholarship. In 1948, the Zionist settler colonization of Palestine culminated in the mass eviction of the overwhelming majority of the indigenous Palestinian people (over 800,000 people) who were expelled from their homes and forcefully dispossessed from their lands. They were unable to return and became refugees as Zionist militias attacked and destroyed villages, towns and cities across Palestine. Palestinians have termed this the al-Nakba (catastrophe) which signifies the theft and loss of their land and the establishment of the Israeli settler colonial state. During the 1967 war, what was left of historic Palestine (Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza) became occupied by Israel. Palestine remains colonized as the Israeli state continues to militarily occupy and confiscate Palestinian land to build colonies for Jewish settlers, while exercising routine violence through massacres, bombings, mass incarceration, targeted assassinations, restricted movement, home demolitions, sexual violence, and implementing racist apartheid policies that fragments the Palestinian population into Bantustans.

In writing about the ongoing settler colonization of Palestine, we start by recognizing our locations on the traditional territories of the Huron Wendat, Haudenosaunee, the Seneca and most recently the Mississaugas of the Credit River, and the waters that sustain life on these stolen lands. In contending with this positionality, we recognize that our locations are required by the Canadian settler state to maintain its settler project and as such it actively solicits our identification and participation in the ongoing colonization and erasure of Indigenous people. In this issue we also draw attention to some of the histories of forced movement and displacement that underlie our presence on these lands, and the ways our location in this settler state can be disrupted and transformed through alliances and relations of solidarity. Specifically, these traditional territories have been a central site in which Palestinians and their allies have advanced global solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian struggle, while simultaneously expressing solidarity and building ties with Indigenous peoples from Six Nations, Tyendinaga, and across Turtle Island (Krebs and Olwan, 2012, Juma’ 2007). Mike Krebs and Dana Olwan (2012) and others document this distinct local history of connecting the struggles against the settler colonial states of Canada and Israel, which we and some of the contributors in this special issue have been part of building for over a decade. This history is significant because Palestinians and their allies on these territories were building these relationships at a time when both of these Indigenous struggles were hardly recognized, well before the time of reconciliation (in Canada), and the popularization of the global solidarity movement with Palestine. This history of connection has produced its own conversations, political analysis, critiques, tensions, and praxis, which this issue is both informed by and seeks to consolidate and take forward.

These ongoing political relationships center and are rooted in a responsibility to decolonial struggles on these lands, what Steven Salaita in his contribution in this special issue calls an “ethical imperative” which he reissues to the Palestine solidarity movement. Political intimacies (Lowe, 2015) between the Palestinian liberation struggle, Indigenous movements and other struggles are not new. Salaita reminds us that “dialogue between Natives and Palestinians goes back at least half a century” and suggests “the first substantive interchange occurred during the heyday of the American Indian Movement [AIM], when Native activists, like their Black Panther peers, looked to global liberation struggles for inspiration and solidarity, proffering both to anti-colonial movements in return” (2017, para 25). What is significant here is the way that such past and present relationships have disrupted and work against settler categories and imaginaries that have configured the native as always ‘disappeared’ or ‘defeated’, which has at times precluded solidarity across these geographies. This is not to deny that solidarity is difficult and that at times there have been tensions when forging ties between struggles (which have been written about by Amadahy, 2013; Bhandar & Ziadah, 2016; Kelley, 2016; Krebs & Olwan, 2012; Tabar, 2016), but we want to stress that by coming together through ethical responsibilities these movements also rupture the ideological structures, racial hierarchies and discourses of settler colonial states. Moreover, these settler colonial ideologies rationalize and sustain settler projects of land theft, ongoing genocide, and anti-black racism (rooted in the history of transatlantic slavery), and coercive labour regimes in a global geography, in which similar racial categories enable capitalist accumulation, exploitation, dispossession and white supremacy across different territories. Thus we and our contributors in this special issue emphasize and expand upon how creating ways of seeing across colonial ideologies and the racialized, sexualized logics that sanction dominance and state terror, is part of a necessary internationalist decolonial project to transform systems of power.

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Poems for Palestine

Decolonize Palestine: End the Violence, End the War, End the Occupation. Solidarity from Turtle Island. #GazaUnderAttack

Decolonize Palestine: End the Violence, End the War, End the Occupation.

By Anne Champion

The Tent of Nations is an educational and ecological farm run by Christian Palestinian brothers in the mountains of Palestine.  They run a peace project that invites people from around the world to interact.  Despite the land being awarded to the family by the Supreme Court, they are not allowed to build and must live in caves.  The caves are painted in bright colors by Palestinian children who paint over their own shadows. Their guest tents have demolition orders on them, as they are considered a form of building, and their trees are routinely destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces. 10,000 trees were destroyed and buried a few days before I arrived.

THE TENT OF NATIONS

If they won’t let us build,
we’ll live in caves
and if our children are merely
shadows, our children
will paint over their shadows
in vibrant primary colors
on the stoic rocks underground.
If our children die, they’ll frolic
on these rocks, embossed
on the earth, bound only to freedom.
If they say the land isn’t ours,
we’ll keep going to court.  If they cut
down 10,000 olive trees in a day
and bury them in a mass grave
like bodies, then we’ll mourn
like bodies. If trees take patience
and nurture, then peace takes
patience and nurture, and if we keep
holding out our hands?
If you block the road to us
with your tanks, the internationals
will climb the mountain to plant
and break bread, to trace
the children’s silhouettes, to gaze
over all of Palestine, to remember.

———

Military raids happen approximately once a week in Bi’lin.  This village has been targeted because its use of creative, nonviolent resistance has endured and captured the attention of people from all over the world.  American presidents, celebrities, and other world leaders have visited, and a documentary about the village, *Five Broken Cameras, *garnered critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination.  Raids are a common tactic of occupation, as it produces anxiety and inhibits sleep, thus giving Palestinians difficulty in everything from routine chores and schoolwork to demonstration planning and participation.

RAIDS
Bil’in, West Bank

Once a week, the soldiers rouse us,
alarm clock of rifle butts on midnight doors.
We pull the children from their beds.
They point their guns at our heads,
but there’s nothing like the bullet
of panic as they aim
at the children’s hearts.
Iyad’s daughter’s first raid
was at one week old. Now she’s six
and she’s learned to raise her arms,
half dreaming still, marching
like an automaton towards the moon.
She always looks at the sky,
never meets a soldier in the eye
as they tear apart her room,
her beads scattering on the floor
like the bullets shot into the night
air.  Someone falls down, someone’s
been hit.  A rubber bullet lodged in a throat
on the side of the road. I watch
the smoke hover above his head
before he slumps over; in seconds,
his neck blooms and pushes aside his face.
The men prop him up, the women call
to the soldiers for an ambulance.
The teenage soldiers high five each other
before calling for help.  And then
the tear gas canisters hiss
and the air strangles with its serpent snare.
Someone wraps a keffiyah
over my face and pulls me inside,
and I can’t see a thing. Even when my vision
returns, I can’t see anything anymore.

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Special decolonization issue of Geez magazine

Issue 39The Decolonization Issue
Issue 39, Fall 2015

“There are good and bad things in our society, successes and failures. But there is only one fundamental reality that remains unaddressed. That is the situation of indigenous peoples. This is the single most important issue before us, whether we are recently arrived in Canada or have been here for centuries.” – John Ralston Saul

In the midst of production for this issue of Geez, editor Aiden Enns sat down with guest editors Leah Gazan and Steve Heinrichs to get a sense of what readers could expect from an issue on decolonization. What follows is a brief excerpt based on their conversation.

Aiden Enns: What does decolonization mean to you?

Leah Gazan: For me, decolonization is about reconnecting back to land and place and an identity that was defined prior to colonization. We very often talk about building communities through economic development but there’s no greater poverty than poverty of the spirit. So I think decolonization means rejuvenating the spirit that’s rooted in land and ceremony and identity and relationships and an understanding of everybody’s role in that.

Steve Heinrichs: A simple metaphor many folks bring up is the guest-host relationship. It’s a bit simplistic but it rings true. You have people coming into another family’s home and occupying the space, with the original owners in the attic while the guests have the run of the house and dictate the rules.

Most of us non-native folks in Canada have not recognized our connection to host peoples and our obligation to honour our relationships with them. Decolonization is not just a fancy umbrella word for undoing sexism, undoing racism – the oppressions list. It is specifically talking about settler colonialism.

Patrick Wolfe says settler colonialism is not an event, it is a structure. It’s not simply a history which we’re trying to become aware of and lament and then move toward respectful relationships. It is a structure, so that means this relationship continues. It means fundamentally reworking our relationship into a place of mutuality and respect.

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Sage Against the Machine: Being Truth to Power

Hwy401 Blockade

By , Indigenous Nationhood Movement

In the wake of two horrific world wars, American Quakers coined the phrase “speak truth to power” as part of a campaign for peace. The truth they wished to voice to the American public, its leaders, and to power itself was a familiar one: “love endures and overcomes.” Speaking truth to power stood in contrast to the silence of cold obedience as exemplified by the professional soldier. Here, the Quakers follow a long-standing tradition in western political thought of identifying speech with agency and disobedience.

This view of politics extends back to the ancient Greeks and reflects the guiding intuition behind contemporary democratic institutions. Throughout that long history, the disruptive potential of speech has been a mainstay of emancipatory movements, struggles for the full inclusion of the marginalized, and the fight for basic equalities that have been historically denied. Dominant communities have accordingly sought to protect their privilege by limiting the ‘voice’ of groups who seek to speak their truths.

But a very different strategy of power is deployed when contending with groups who seek collective autonomy as opposed to equality and inclusion. In the past half-century, settler colonial society has come to realize that excluding Indigenous peoples and their perspectives from public discourse has not stopped them from speaking to one another or from strengthening their nations. These nations are, of course, rooted in the very lands over which dominant society unilaterally asserts its claim of sovereignty. Formal exclusion has proven a limited strategy. And so Indigenous nationhood movements have inspired a distinctive and seemingly counter-intuitive response from dominant society: an invitation (sometimes even a demand) that Indigenous peoples speak truth to power.

Why would colonial institutions accommodate and in some cases encourage the voices of Indigenous peoples? Because at its core, what settler society fears more than the disruptive potential of Indigenous speech is the inevitability that Indigenous peoples, once released from an imposed duty to justify themselves to the colonizer, will turn that massive investment of energy back into being truth to power. Being truth to power is reflected in those embodied practices of love for community and for the land, diverse practices that undermine the homogenizing violence that sustains colonial privilege. Accordingly, colonial power increasingly works through sites of dialogue designed to sap the vitality from these embodied practices of autonomy. The goal is to lift Indigenous peoples out of communities and off the land and drop them into a permanent state of explanation, a limbo wherein they are compelled to talk endlessly to settlers about community and about land.

When Indigenous peoples are not engaged in being truth to power, then, it is often because they have been induced to explain and justify themselves to a colonial audience. They have been tireless and resilient at the podium, these elders, activists, advocates, academics, lawyers, artists, teachers, and children. They have tapped every shared register and common understanding available in the hopes that genuine reciprocity might drip, however slowly, into the rusted tin can of colonial institutions. They have argued for nationhood through the abstract lens of high philosophy, through the concrete immediacy of violence against women, and from every location in between. They have deployed the arcane legal language that colonial courts revere as authoritative and they have attempted to transpose Indigenous perspectives into every idiom that the general public might understand. They have been repeating the message at every opportunity and in every institution be it the media, grade schools, universities, courts, legislatures, international governance bodies, conferences, committees, commissions, corporate boardrooms and negotiating tables.

Indigenous peoples are prompted to reach across the colonial abyss by the urgency and immediacy of threats to health and well-being. Despite the fact that these efforts have led to some important gains, from the perspective of settler colonial power there are advantages to promoting still more dialogue. For one, such exchanges are an important method of maintaining surveillance and control. As mentioned, they also sap and divert vital energy. But there is another, less obvious reason why settlers champion more robust discourse: Indigenous ‘voice’ is the primary source of narcissistic settler redemption.

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Where are the Settlers of Colour?

By Shaista Patel, from Upping the Anti:

Dear UTA,

Thank you for your critical and thought-provoking journal. I would like to address Kate Milley’s article, “Where is John Wayne when you need him? Anti-native organizing and the Caledonia Crisis” (UTA 9). I learned a lot about mobilizations of white settlers against Six Nations from her article. However, what remained with me was her very important claim that “ordinary” white settlers are actively engaged in ongoing colonialism and that “the moral distance is uncomfortably narrow between those who are easily cast in the category of white supremacists and those who comprise the majority of white Canadians.” In other words, there is no race to innocence, and the are no good white settlers for Milley.

Milley’s article has made me once again question the binary of white settlers versus the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Where do I, a settler of colour, and other settlers of colour like myself, fit into this equation of white settlers versus Aboriginal peoples? Are we innocent just because we are people of colour and do not have a relationship of conquest to this land? Is our relationship to First Peoples colonial? I recently conducted a workshop for people of colour on how we see ourselves in relation to this land. While the enthusiasm of the people present at the workshop was wonderful, one of the questions that generated the most debate and discussion was whether or not people of colour are indeed settlers, or if whiteness is a precondition for being considered a settler. Some of the questions that came up included whether we were being too “academic” in using this vocabulary. How would we tell poor, racialized women of colour, for instance, that they were settlers here? My purpose in mentioning these questions is not to somehow claim that I am better than those who do not see themselves as complicit in routinized violence against Aboriginal peoples. Rather, I write these questions because these are important discussions that settlers of colour need to engage in.

The narrow moral distance that Milley discusses in her article has made me ask myself what that distance is between people of colour here and white settlers. I have often heard people of colour with left politics claim that “our relation to this land is different.” How is this difference lived differently by bodies of colour? On one hand, people like me fight for justice in the name of being Canadians. We often stand in various anti-racist rallies to claim our rights as Canadians, and some of us – especially those born here – feel offended when we are asked where we are “really” from. On the other hand, we also claim innocence. We say that we are coming from other post-colonies, and that we too are victims of direct or indirect European colonization. Even when we recognize that we are settlers, there is no sense of urgency for most of us to organize with the Indigenous peoples and nations here.

I think that we not only need to question where we are coming from but more importantly, also consider the place we have come to. What does citizenship mean for racialized people in a white settler-colony? What does it mean when we demand these citizenship rights, which are rights based in white supremacy, dispossession, and genocide of Aboriginal peoples? For instance, when Muslims today (and I include myself here) write and organize against legislation like the AntiTerrorism Act or against acts of racial profiling, do we look at what the Indian Act is still doing to continue genocide against Indigenous peoples here? Do we look at how Indigenous activists have a long history of being labelled as terrorists? Do we ask ourselves why Aboriginality and urbanity are still framed as mutually exclusive? If we think that we people of colour have a right to be here, then where do we think people of native nations belong?

There are a few clarifications I would like to make here: I am not saying that we share the same power as white settlers, or that race, class, gender, and citizenship do not define where and how bodies are organized in Canada. Milley stresses the significance of white settlers mobilizing for Indigenous sovereignty in a white settler colony; I recognize that in such mobilizations the risks for people of colour are far greater than they are for white people. But we still need to discuss what our organizing against racism and colonialism looks like and carefully map out strategies for doing this work. So, what I am saying is that people like me who have the privilege of mobility, and have the resources, and whose status here is not as tenuous as that of refugees, should definitely engage in serious political action. Whether we first came to this land as freed slaves, refugees, or under the racist policies of the Immigration Act, we are all here now, and we benefit from the settlement process. We need to re-imagine and re-work our anti-racist efforts in ways that do not continue the erasure of Aboriginals. We need to stop paying mere lip-service to Indigenous sovereignty and recognize that the forces that dehumanize us as racialized people are the same forces that continue the genocide of First Peoples. We need to stop being defensive when we are told by Aboriginals or other people in or outside our activist groups that perhaps we need to be more critical of how we are working for Indigenous sovereignty in our organizing.

Having said this, I do want to say that bodies of colour are marginalized in most activist settings, with white people claiming the centre for themselves. Women of colour have time and again written about how white women and especially white men appropriate various anti-racist/colonial struggles to talk on behalf of people of colour. So, white people need to listen to the First Peoples as well as to us non-Aboriginal people of colour. White settlers need to stop and listen every time an Indigenous person or a person of colour tells them that they are being racist or self-congratulatory. If these important negotiations and discussions do not happen in the organizing of all settlers here, then there can be no real fight against the racial and colonial violence that this country was built on.

I am, once again, sincerely grateful to Kate Milley for her brilliant and thought-provoking work.

In complicity and solidarity,

Shaista Patel, Toronto

Unsettling America note: Also see the article “Privilege vs. Complicity: People of Colour and Settler Colonialism”

Spaces Between Us: Queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization

Morgensen, Scott Lauria. Spaces between us : queer settler colonialism and indigenous decolonization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

From Settler Agrarian:

I skipped over a chapter in this summary and I found myself quoting Morgensen extensively as I tried to summarize, because so many of his claims were quite complicated and nuanced.  I’m still digesting this book; I might be able to say more about what I actually think about it later…

Morgensen’s book tracks what he calls “the biopolitics of settler colonialism” in queer movements.  He shows that the biopolitics of settler colonialism structures Native and non-Native queer movements, and their interrelationship.  Colonialism is always there; it structures desires and relationships, and it tends to remain naturalized in settler society: the targeting of indigenous communities for death seems natural, necessary, or already-accomplished.  In the intro, he advances three claims:

1)   “In the United States, modern queer cultures and politics have taken form as normatively white, multiracial, and non-Native projects compatible with a white settler society.

2)   Within broad transnational alliances (focused here in the United States), Native queer and Two-Spirit activists directly denaturalize settler colonialism and disrupt its conditioning of queer projects by asserting Native queer modernities.

3)   Settler colonialism and its conditioning of modern sexuality produce an intimate relationship between non-Native and Native queer modernities that I interpret as conversations (ix).

Thinking settler colonialism ‘biopolitically’ means “reading ‘modern sexuality’ as the array of discourses, procedures, and institutions that arose in metropolitan and colonial societies to distinguish and link primitive and civilized gender and sexuality, while defining racial, national, gendered, and sexual subjects and populations in biopolitical relationship.  The colonization of indigenous peoples was a “proviing ground for the biopolitics of settler colonialism,” which, he argues, “defines modern sexuality as ‘contact’ between queered indigeneity and its transcendence by settler sexuality” (23).  In short, settler colonial biopower affects all modern sexualities (32).  Heteropatriarchal settler colonialism sought “both the elimination of Indigenous sexuality and its incorporation into settler sexual modernity” (34).  He argues that the sovereign power of death and the relegation of indigenous people to a state of exception worked in tandem with “a modern and siciplinary education of desire that produced normative subjects of life” (34-5).  European sexualities fostered misogynist hierarchies and ‘queered’ indigenous peoples, interpreting transgressions of heteropatriarchy not only as abnormality in individuals, but as symptoms of a flawed society, requiring heteropatriarchal interventions and discipline (36-7).  This is part of a shift from the singling out of individuals (the regime of sovereignty) towards their subjection “with their communities to military attack, containment, or removal” (38).  Thus residential and reserve schools “used disciplinary education to try to break Native communities, languages, and cultural knowledges” without the need for “brute violence” (39).  This is part of the “deadly logic of regulation,” which never precluded overt and extreme violence, but nonetheless represents a distinct and pervasive aspect of colonialism (40-1)

So what are the implications of biopolitical settler colonialism for settlers?  Morgensen situates the subjugation of indigenous peoples as “proving ground” for the sexual regulation of settler societies and modern sexuality more generally.  Colonial settler subjectivity was still in formation, not yet naturalized: “far from reflecting the finality of conquest, this period was one of tense negotiations of active and contested settlement.  Any iteration of modern sexuality in this time that placed Native people in the past knew itself to be a contingent claim that remained open to challenge” (42).

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Settler Roles in Indigenous Resurgence

Idle No More livestream from Shq’apthut, Nanaimo, British Columbia

Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 5:00 – 7:30 pm PST

Click here to view livestream.

Click here for facebook event listing.

Audio of the panelists is now available.

Idle No More is the current manifestation of widespread Indigenous resurgence. Historically, alongside Indigenous resistance and resurgence efforts against colonialism, imperialism, and genocide, there has always been support from some Settler peoples who recognize the immorality of the situation facing Indigenous peoples. This is most true today as millions of Settler peoples are stepping up alongside of Indigenous peoples in the Idle No More movement but there have been questions arising from how to be a good ally in this movement and friction has resulted.

Many Settler peoples are wanting to help and to learn more about why we are in this situation and what is an ethical way of engagement with these issues, and with the INM movement itself.

Panelists Robyn Heaslip, Ian Ki’laas Caplette, John Swift, and Natasha Bob will be engaging this question in a livestream panel addressing these areas of contention in the hopes of bringing further awareness to the ethical engagement of Settler peoples in the INM movement and in Indigenous resurgence.

**NOTE: The term “Settler” does not desrcibe a particular “race” of people and is meant to describe those peoples who are not Indigneous peoples to the lands they live in.

Decolonization is not a metaphor

By Eve Tuck & K. Wayne Yang, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, Vol 1, No 1 (2012)

Our goal in this article is to remind readers what is unsettling about decolonization. Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools. The easy adoption of decolonizing discourse by educational advocacy and scholarship, evidenced by the increasing number of calls to “decolonize our schools,” or use “decolonizing methods,” or, “decolonize student thinking”, turns decolonization into a metaphor. As important as their goals may be, social justice, critical methodologies, or approaches that decenter settler perspectives have objectives that may be incommensurable with decolonization. Because settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of white, non-white, immigrant, postcolonial, and oppressed people, can similarly be entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation that actually further settler colonialism. The metaphorization of decolonization makes possible a set of evasions, or “settler moves to innocence”, that problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity. In this article, we analyze multiple settler moves towards innocence in order to forward “an ethic of incommensurability” that recognizes what is distinct and what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization in relation to human and civil rights based social justice projects. We also point to unsettling themes within transnational/Third World decolonizations, abolition, and critical space-place pedagogies, which challenge the coalescence of social justice endeavors, making room for more meaningful potential alliances.

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What is Settler Colonialism?

By Maya Mikdashi, JadaliyyaListen to this page using ReadSpeaker

Almost every year, for the week of the Fourth of July, my family makes the twelve-hour drive from their homes in Michigan to what they call their “farm.” The land has been in my family since the 1854 treaty between the Ojibwe and the United States created the Bad River Tribe Reservation on Lake Superior. My family has papers “proving” their rights to land that borders Bear Creek, but according to the treaty the US government retains ultimate ownership over the land and has leased it to Native Americans and their heirs “forever.” As long as said heirs did not break any of the treaty’s stipulations.

I have an ambivalent relationship with the fact that I am part Native American. This ambivalence is in large part inherited, as my grandfather went through life largely denying that he was “an Indian.” Scarred by the inherited memories of forced removal and “education” inflicted on his mother and grandmother and by the discrimination that marked his life as a child in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, he did not tell his children that they were part Native American. One year, his sister, who had been born on the reservation and was at the time residing there, told my mother and her siblings that they were Native American and had a proud ancestry stretching back centuries. My grandfather was livid, convinced that his children would be mercilessly harassed and made to feel less worthy once they returned to their home in Howell, Michigan. For decades, he refused to talk about his family’s history and how he navigated his life as a “half-Indian.” Growing up in Beirut, I knew my mother was part Chippewa, but this fact from her genealogy did not register with any more resonance than the fact that she was also part Swedish. The Indian statues, dolls, and beadwork that adorned my grandparents’ house in Michigan were as unremarked upon as the American flag hanging off the house’s facade and the never-ending assortment of Ronald Reagan (and, later, the George W. Bush) calendars that hung on the walls and the refrigerator.

As my grandfather aged, he surprised even himself with a desire to narrate his history as the life of a Native American. He would acknowledge that his life had been easier than some of his siblings because he could pass as white. He spoke of his mother and his grandmother, being called “red” at grade school, and his first feeling of complete acceptance while serving in the Army during World War Two. He allowed himself to be political about being Native American, in part driven by the need to have his children take over his cherished farm and the resistance that the US government puts up every time a new generation comes to “inherit” Native American land. His reversal came at a time when I was studying, and later, teaching the Native American genocide in courses on colonialism and law and power at Columbia University. I would visit my grandparents in Michigan and he would share with me with the Bad River newsletters he had picked up during his last trip to the farm. He would unfold centuries-old pieces of paper, allotments to my ancestors carrying the presidential seal and signatures of three different US Presidents. He showed me a series of maps of the reservation that showed its contraction over the nineteenth century as logging interests chipped away at the 1854 treaty. He was impressed by my knowledge of the Native American genocide, and by my desire to know, and ask, about his and my family. Towards the end of his life, he wanted all of his grandchildren to get their tribal membership card, but I was still ambivalent.

Land allotment, 1884. Image from author archives

This ambivalence would sometimes manifest in anger, such as when I turned down a “minority” scholarship at Columbia University. At first, I was more amenable to receiving this scholarship as an Arab, owing to the general state of poverty experienced by graduate students. When the administration made it clear that they would only grant the scholarship based on my identification as a Native American, I balked. I was not born, raised, or educated in the United States, and I am in no way representative of the experiences of Native Americans. Due to continued practices of structural oppression and disenfranchisement on reservations, a minority of Native Americans attend four-year colleges. Even fewer attend elite higher education institutions such as Columbia University. In addition, it is a violence to consider indigenous peoples one minority among many in a multicultural state. Native Americans are not hyphenated Americans, they are not a particular or singular American cultural group. They did not arrive in ships or planes from other parts of the world. This world was not new to them. Instead, Native Americans are the remainders of nationalism’s ongoing holocaust.

Behind this anger, and perhaps in some ways fueling it, there is an inexplicable sense of guilt. Do I have a right to be angry? Who am I to feel self-righteous about this history? After all, I am the granddaughter of a man who purposely did not speak of his native ancestry to his children, seeking to protect them, and perhaps himself, from what had already hurt him. I am the daughter of one of those children that has not lived in the United States for almost thirty-two years. I grew up thinking about, and struggling against, settler colonialism in Palestine, not the United States. In fact, it was through Palestine that I came to rethink and question my mother’s family history. It was after working in refugee camps in Beirut that I began to question the use of the words “the farm” to connote land on a reservation. It was only after I understood that Israel is a settler colony that I came to see the United States as the same. Still, how could I claim this history as my own when I knew what the scars of dispossession and ethnic cleansing looked like? How could I feel the ongoing catastrophe that was (and is) the settling of the United States when I had not paid its price? I grew up in an upper middle class family in Beirut. I always said that if anything, I was an American Arab, or an Arab with an American background. Do I deserve to feel anything beyond intellectual outrage when I read about the massacres, displacements and exterminations of Native Americans, particularly if this reading is done in the pristine classrooms of an Ivy League institution named in honor of Christopher Columbus?

Land allotment, 1902. Image from author archives

This year, for once in the United States and not in Lebanon during the month of July, I joined my family on their trip to the Bad River Reservation on Lake Superior. I was nervous as I watched the Upper Peninsula, with its beaches, rivers and towns named after Native American tribes and personalities, come and go from behind the windows of an air-conditioned car. There was water everywhere; water that I remember had surprised me as a child with its sweetness. I was raised on the Mediterranean, and at the time my seven year old self could not comprehend that a body of water could be so large, so overwhelming, and not be filled with salt. Opening my mouth, I had expected bitterness. I was wrong.

I had not been to the reservation since that year. In addition to watching my feet walk over sand through the cold beauty of Lake Superior’s water, I have exactly five memories from that trip. One: Being taken to a pow-wow that brought together Chippewa from several reservations in the US and Canada. I remember trying to mimic the movements I saw before a bonfire as my mother looked at me with equal measure amusement and disapproval. Two: My mother pointing out a picture of my grandfather’s ancestor, Chief Buffalo, at the Ojibwe museum. Three: My grandfather picking me up and lowering me onto a canoe with an older man who harvested wild rice onto a pile near my feet as we made our way down the Bad River. A leech fastened to my arm. Four: My grandmother taking me into her bedroom and showing me a nineteenth-century bible written in Ojibwe that had been in my grandfather’s family for generations. Five: My grandmother removing a tick from my leg and squeezing it dead between her fingers as I cried in a dance around her, my protector.

In the car, I told myself that this year I would apply for my tribal membership card in honor of my grandfather, who passed away two years ago. My mother is a member, as are most of my cousins. I contemplated visiting an elder in order to be “named” by the tribe as my cousins had done years ago. I knew that my grandfather had wanted me to become a member of the Bad River Tribe. I knew that towards the end of his life he bristled at his family’s understanding of the reservation as a vacation spot-an understanding that he himself had promoted for decades.

Land allotment, 1902. Image from author archives.

It was a somewhat typical Fourth of July vacation: five days of barbecues, fishing, swimming, football, mosquitos, bonfires and fireworks. Fireworks that were painted almost pornographically with the American flag, and exploded in the sky above Bear Creek. During those five days, I learned that my family, and others like it, are sometimes looked upon with suspicion by those that reside on the reservation year round. I learned that you can buy one dollar plastic bottles of mixed alcohol at the same store that you can buy “Bad River Reservation” sweatshirts made in Pakistan. I learned that you must carry a tribal membership card if you wish to visit Round Rock Beach, perhaps the most beautiful beach I have seen thus far. I was warned that because I did not yet have a card, “the Indians” might tell me to leave with less than kindness. On that beautiful beach I learned that I could be the object of distrust when I approached a child to help her skip a rock and her mother ran quickly towards her and pulled her away from my smile.

I learned that you have to order your family’s wild rice a year in advance so that the man with the canoe can factor you into that season’s harvest. I learned that the wild rice that is sold in expensive packaging in supermarkets across the United States is nothing but the rebranding of settler colonialism. In fact, hummus is to Palestine as wild rice is to Native America. As Israel continues to claim the Palestinian kitchen as its own, so does the United States with Native America: consuming corn, wild rice, quinoa, cranberry, cornbread and turkey with the confidence of a national cuisine. In the United States, settler colonialism has been so complete, and so successful, that the world has forgotten that South Africa, Australia and Israel are all reproductions, all approximations of the ongoing victory back home.

I learned that upon return from the reservation people will ask if you “have seen Indians, what did they look like, and how many,” as if you had been on a field trip or to a zoo.

On the drive back to Michigan, I tried to explain settler colonialism to my cousin’s sons. I attempted to put Patrick Wolfe’s lessons into language fit for a car trip and comprehendible to two hyperactive seven and thirteen year-old boys. I failed. I said many things which together gesture at what it means to live in a settler colony whose crimes have been normalized. Gesture towards, but cannot say. I do not have a vocabulary for this; there is no dictionary to help speak the languages of histories that are not History. There is no melody for this melancholy. Instead, I look for a way to describe all of this weight, all of this sadness, and find only a metaphor. A tautological comparison: hummus is to Palestine as wild rice is to Native America. But of course, this is insufficient. There is so much more I could try, and fail, to say.

Settler colonialism is criminalization: Drunks, drug addicts, and terrorists. It is the miscreant, the danger and the distrust in Lid, in Sabra, and on the Bad River Reservation. It is how these spaces open up to others where the good native and the good Palestinian reside. It is minority scholarships given to those who have maybe been once to a reservation, but have the requisite blood quota to allow a university to claim diversity points. It is referring to settler ancestors as “immigrants” without a second thought or any ill intention. It is the bliss of an untroubled mind. 

Settler colonialism is an inherited silence where you know memories are supposed to be. It is knowing that these memories have been purposely excised due to pain and the hope for a better future, if only the next generation could just forget. It is a man aging into regret for having shut out his children and grandchildren from his life and the lives of his loved ones. It is his granddaughter wanting to go back in time to beat up whoever called him names in grade school. It is finding papers, land allotments and photos of relatives who “look Indian” that you have never seen because they were in a locked suitcase for decades. It is watching these photos, wondering about the names of these people and knowing that even if you knew the names you would not know how to pronounce them or understand what meaning they were supposed to impart. It is understanding that these family documents and photos could belong to a museum, and that they would tell the twinned story of genocide and nation building. It is thinking that your brother has the same shaped eyes as a great-great grandmother, and then admonishing yourself for seeing things that are not, and cannot be, there. It is waiting to feel something beyond anger and guilt, and feeling consumed by the weight of waiting.

Settler colonialism is uncertainty, looking for someone to share this uncertainty with and finding that the people around you are no longer interested in reflection and are perplexed that you have all of these questions. They are tired of all this past, all these half-truths and quarter memories. It is feeling denied, but not knowing what you were denied of and having no way of finding out. It is feeling guilty for having questions, wondering “Do I have the right to feel what I am feeling?” It is self-berating. estrangement, and the gulf that opens when a sign remains but the referent is lost. It is being haunted on a highway as the names of towns that carry the mark of vanquished peoples pass by too quickly to memorize or write down. It is the proliferation of division, between gringos, mixed bloods and Indians, and between Palestinian Israelis, Palestinians, Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens (and refugees) of first world countries. It is the seduction of passing as white, as straight, as not poor. It is a desire to be recognized as what others recognize as normal.

It is tourism in Jerusalem, yachts at the edge of Round Rock beach on Lake Superior, the confidence of national holidays being celebrated across a Native American reservation, where the fireworks are the best and most explosive that American money can buy. It is the old city of Haifa, preserved as if a museum installation, lit up at night to cast light on roads that map out the land in Hebrew letters. It is generations who have gone and taken their secrets with them.

It is intending to apply for tribal membership, and planning the day you will visit the tribal offices. It is turning away from the entrance in ambivalence, stretched thin between anger and guilt. It is feeling unworthy of this history, and of this ongoing struggle. It is feeling small, insignificant, and diluted.

Land allotment, 1881. Image from author archives.

Settler colonialism is being unable to fill in the blanks. It is the history of a family welded together by natives and settlers. It is the logic of superiority, of primacy, of genocide. It is the colonization of memory and of events that come to be known as “History.” It is visiting a reservation or a refugee camp and wondering how this could have been your life. It is being thankful that this is not your life, that this is only a visit or a passion, a choice to be here. It is realizing that this confidence in one’s place has been bought with the logic and practice of settler colonialism. It is wanting answers to inquiries you cannot yet, and probably will never, articulate. It is seeking epiphany through writing and finding only the proliferation of questions, of doubts, and of histories. Like these questions, and more than anything, settler colonialism is ongoing.