Indigenous Peoples and Peace Work: A Meditation

For some time now, I’ve been uncomfortable with what I feel in my heart to be a good thing: the solidarity movement for Palestinian rights in the U.S.

I’ll start by saying that I am, myself, a part of that movement, which I think must begin as one of solidarity–but must also include a very personal acceptance of responsibility.

At first, I thought that responsibility was one of money. I thought, my taxpayer dollars are directly responsible for war in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Israel. My $$$ is funding violence against Palestinian people, funding illegal settlements, funding hate and war.

And I because I felt responsible, so I acted. I volunteered in the West Bank, I hosted educational events, I raised money, I lobbied. And yet, deep down, something bothered me.

While in the West Bank, I was often struck by the similarities in characterizing the loss of land and violence against indigenous peoples there, and the little I knew about the history of the U.S. and the genocide of indigenous peoples here. Terms like “settler,” “divine mandate,” and the oft-made and oft-broken deals (treaties?) between Palestinians and Israelis. And I kept thinking that it was very possible that the Palestinians would “lose” the same way Native Americans “lost.”

And for months, this was my way of thinking. Until I met a Native man from what some call Canada, who was struggling against the tar sand stripping that’s happening in his people’s territory.

I thought, I didn’t know Native Americans in Canada were still struggling. Great!

And then I started seeing more stories about indigenous struggles in North America–and more stories about them from the United States.

The Western Shoshone who fought–and lost–a battle to prevent a pipeline from being built through a sacred mountain on their territory.

Black Mesa, home to some sixteen thousand Navajos and eight thousand Hopis, which has been slowly destroyed by 30 years of illegal coal mining and weapons testing by U.S. citizens

Black Mesa is a classic example of the parallels between Indigenous struggles here and in Palestine.

In Black Mesa, activists occupy the land that the Peabody Coal Company is attempting to mine for profits. Like ISM volunteers who occupy Palestinian lands with Palestinian families, these volunteers help protect indigenous lands and peoples.

In North Dakota, Native Americans face outright hate:
One was “called by insulting names such as “eagle that can’t talk” [and] given the worst job assignments such as cleaning and scrubbing, not running the drill.” “When this employee complained, he was told that he ‘should buy a case of jars and put his feelings in it because it is always going to be a white man’s oil field,'” according to a document filed in U.S. District Court.

I suppose I feel guilty for ignoring my responsibility to make reparations to Native Americans in the U.S., for still maintaining a privilege that gives me access to land, money, resources, and power not given to many Native Americans.

And I suppose I feel silly crying about Nakba, when 98% of Native Americans were killed in the 250 year land grab known as “Manifest Destiny.”

And I know I feel guilty that this continues today–and that I’ve not done one thing about it.

I guess I would ask those who know more than me for help. What can I do? What can I say? How can I act?

I want to stand in solidarity with the indigenous around the world–but I want first to make my spirit right with those who I know I am still committing violence against–through my tacit indifference.

What advice do you have?

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2 Responses to “Indigenous Peoples and Peace Work: A Meditation”


  1. 1 Tim November 30, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    The Native American Rights Fund has been working to protect the legal rights of Native Americans for 40 years. They are worth a donation.

    • 2 Nik December 2, 2009 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks Tim…I will do this. I was wondering, too, if anyone knew of any local tribes or groups that work in Maryland? I’ve just not encountered anyone around here, though I often did in Michigan.


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