An open letter:
There is an unwritten rule that Aboriginal people in Canada should not take our grievances with Canada outside of national borders. Most of us have grown up to respect the principle of “keeping it in the family,” so to speak. Voluntarily agreeing to not think and act internationally creates boundaries that restrict our own understanding of colonialism and the political mechanics that continue to undermine Aboriginal self-determination. Ignoring the suffering that colonialism brings to others will only prolong our own.
This month, I will be joining the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, an international fleet of seven ships delivering food, construction and medical supplies to the besieged people of Palestine. I am not going as a representative of my First Nation community or any organization. This was a personal decision after discussion with and support from my family. We recognize that the people of Palestine have been subjected to colonization in the same way that Indigenous people here have lost their relationship with the land. Gaza has become an open-air prison for 1.4 million people. It is the largest “Reserve” in the world. Finding solutions and reconciliation begins by getting involved.
So why should Indigenous people in Canada bother with people in other countries? I once offered a young man in our community a copy of Steve Biko’s book, I Write What I Like. He handed it back and said, “what does a n****r in South Africa mean to me?” Biko understood a lot about Indigenous identity and how colonial States control what people think of themselves. Biko also understood how Indigenous people are forced onto reserves and come to believe that a few square kilometres are all that they will ever know of a homeland. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Tecumseh, Pontiac, Powasson all struggled against the effects of colonialism. Colonialism is an international scourge that has destabilized all of humanity not only our own cultures. We have much in common with people around the globe who have been displaced and written off as acceptable casualties of progress.
The United Nations has declared Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian port at Gaza to be illegal. But, still, Canada and other developed nations continue to turn a blind eye to Israel’s military control and the suffering of the ordinary people of Gaza. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has called the Freedom Flotilla “provocative.” While the effort to bring humanitarian aid is essential, the political effort of challenging the criminal isolation of 1.4 million people is just as important. If our ancestors and their supporters had not challenged residential schools, the theft of traditional territory and resources, and sought meaningful relationships through treaty we would not have survived to be Anishnabeg today. Many communities are still overrun by extractive industries or positioned as impoverished resource warehouses of this country. We need to think and act beyond the scope of government policy initiatives because Canadian international actions toward indigenous people elsewhere are instilled with the same racist and privileged ideologies that are expressed at home. Surely there is a better way to make a living in this world.
Those of us who have chosen to board the Canadian Boat in the Freedom Flotilla expect to succeed. We will either succeed by bringing much needed medical supplies to civil society groups in Gaza or we will succeed in bringing worldwide attention to the cruelty of colonialism. All of us accept that this is a dangerous voyage and have agreed to be non-violent in words and action. This is not about condemning one side or the other, or supporting one political group over another. It is about providing aid and challenging a corrupt and inhumane practice. Even though the Canadian Boat will be fully inspected by a neutral third party there is a real potential that we will come under attack. My hope is that you will think beyond the confines of our own colonial cage and counsel the Canadian government to ask for restraint, acceptance and peace from the Israeli government. Think of joining with thoughtful human beings around the world who would rather share this beautiful creation than destroy it with war and exploitation. I am happy to be an Indigenous presence on this voyage.
Robert Lovelace is an adjunct lecturer at Queen’s University in the Department of Global Development Studies. His academic interests include Indigenous Studies, Sustainable Development and Aboriginal education. Robert is also an activist in anti-colonial struggles. In 2008, Robert spent 3 ½ months as a political prisoner for his part in defending the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation homeland from uranium exploration and mining. Robert is a retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. He lives in the Algonquin highlands at Eel Lake in the traditional Ardoch territory.