Indigenous Intifada? From Gaza Strip to Six Nations

Indigenous Intifada?
From Gaza Strip to Six Nations

By Gord Hill, Kwakwaka’wakw nation

[The following article is from the program guide of the 2009 Under the Volcano Festival of Art & Social Change.]

On July 1, 2009, as the country celebrated ‘Canada Day’, Omar Shaban, executive vice-president of the Canadian Arab Federation, wrote on his Facebook  “F*** Canada Day.” Although it was his personal opinion, the subsequent media controversy & position of the CAF prompted him to resign, stating he did not want to be part of an organization that refused to acknowledge “Canada’s colonial & shameful history,” labelling Canada a “genocidal state.”

In early February, 2002, then-Vancouver MP and junior minister for Indian Affairs Stephen Owen also caused controversy when he compared young natives in Canada to Palestinian militants: “Canada’s native communities represent a ‘tinderbox’ full of restless native youths ready to explode in violence if progress isn’t made in treaty talks…” Owen likened young natives in Canada to Palestinian militants in Israel in his startling warning

“If you see kids in an impoverished native village, with three generations of welfare behind them and no hope for the future, and they’re even moved to perhaps that most horrible statistic of despair, which is youth suicide, they are very vulnerable to someone coming in with a gun and a warrior ethic and saying ‘Why waste your life? Be a martyr…’ That hasn’t happened. But if it’s happening in the Gaza Strip, if we are tolerating similar conditions of despair that will drive kids to commit suicide, that’s a tinderbox.” (Vancouver Sun, Feb. 5/02).

Owen’s comments are similar to other “warnings’ routinely issued by the RCMP, CSIS, politicians, and even band chiefs. Their purpose is to legitimize state repression of Indigenous struggles and marginalize our movement. They are also used to promote government policies– or the neo-colonial Aboriginal elite themselves– as the ‘reasonable’ and therefore ‘peaceful’ means to resolve issues (as opposed to the dark and sinister militants waiting in the shadows…).

Are we ready to “explode in violence” if progress isn’t made in treaty talks? Hardly. Most Native militants are opposed to treaties to begin with. Duhhh!

Owen’s comparison of Natives to the Palestinians deserves a closer look, however. There are indeed parallels between our struggle as Indigenous peoples and the Palestinians. Both are struggles being waged against colonization, apartheid, and genocide!


Despite some Jewish claims of an ‘historical right’ to the state of Israel, it is a colonialist regime, set up first as a British interest and now a US fortress in the Middle-East. Jews were expelled from the Palestinian region by the Romans in the Second Century, AD. Settling in Europe, they experienced both prosperity and persecution. Beginning in the late 19th Century, European Jews began organizing a Zionist movement aimed at settlement and eventually control of Palestine. Zionism is a political-religious movement that asserts a spiritual and historical right to the Holy Land.

The Nazi Holocaust of WW 2 served to reinforce the Zionist plan, as did Western interests in Mid-East oil. This was accomplished in 1947, when the United Nations divided Palestine and created Israel. In 1948 there was war as Arabs resisted the partition of their territories. With Western backing, Israel took control of nearly 77 per cent of Palestinian land. Thousands of Palestinian homes were demolished, and entire towns relocated or forced out as refugees.

Whether or not one agrees with a ‘spiritual and historical’ right to territory, the colonial and apartheid regime established over Palestinians by Israel is oppressive and genocidal. As it is, Israel only exists as a geo-strategic interest of the United States, who fund and equip Israel’s powerful military.

The Occupied Territories

In 1967 Israel went to war with neighbouring Arab states, including Egypt, Syria and Jordan. During this Six Day War, Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They have come to be known as the Occupied Territories, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live under Israeli military control.

Once Israel had secured the occupied territories, they imposed curfews, check-points, detentions, imprisonment, and deportations. The Israeli government and military set up administrative control of the Occupied Territories, imposing control over land, resources, education, media, and travel. Palestinians were required to have special ID passes issued by the Israeli military in order to travel from one area to another.

These special laws & restrictions imposed on Palestinians have been denounced as forms of colonialism and apartheid, and are similar to methods used by Canada and other colonizing states to control Indigenous peoples, to remove them from their land and open up regions to settlement and resource exploitation.

In Canada, this was accomplished largely through the 1876 Indian Act, which established the band council & reserve systems. It also laid out special & seperate laws that impacted every aspect of Indigenous life, authorized the forced indoctrination of Native children into the Residential Schools, prohibited traditional culture & social organization, & controlled the movement of Natives with a special pass system.

The Intifada

By 1987, two generations of Palestinians had lived under Israeli occupation. In December of that year, following the death of four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, an uprising began which saw thousands of Palestinian youths fighting in the streets, with sticks and stones, against Israeli soldiers. This was an uprising of an entire generation and was known as the Intifada (uprising). The tactics of the Intifada included organized boycotts of Israeli businesses, strikes, public demonstrations, radio, leaflets, direct action, and riots. One observer compared it to a “fairly sophisticated strategy for urban guerrilla warfare, without the usual weapons.”

Concentration of Forces

In the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in refugee camps, villages, towns, and cities. In the Jabalia refugee camp, where the Intifada first began, approx. 65,000 people live in 2 square kilometres of land. In Canada, Native populations are far more dispersed, and it is difficult to concentrate large numbers into one area.

The concept of an ‘Indigenous Intifada’-form of resistance was first discussed after the 1990 Oka Crisis. At that time, some warriors questioned the usefulness of armed confrontations and standoffs. They suggested it might be more effective to adopt the Palestinian-style of “low-level conflict.”

By its very nature, the tactics of the Intifada involve larger numbers of people than armed standoffs. These methods can potentially mobilize entire communities into action, ranging from boycotts, to strikes, to direct action—all of which involve people in the struggle. Another aspect of the Intifada-style of conflict is that it portrays civilian populations fighting against military/police forces, thereby limiting the state’s ability to isolate resistance to an armed group of ‘terrorists’.

Of course, overall, Indigenous resistance and other social movements do have a hard time in the face of widespread apathy and present social conditions. But here’s another tip from the Palestinian Intifada: “How is it possible, after 20 years of relative docility, that on 9 December, 1987, the Palestinians in the occupied territories could explode with such sustained fury? At the outset, few observers could have anticipated the remarkable endurance of the Palestinian protesters” (Imperial Israel, p. 241).

2006 Six Nations: Indigenous Intifada

In April 2006, police attempted to dismantle a blockade erected by Natives at the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario. The blockade was to stop construction of a condominium site on land originally part of their territory. In response to the raid, hundreds of Natives on the reserve — the largest in Canada with over 20,000 people — erected more blockades on highways, roads, and rail-lines. Direct action, including the burning of a rail-way bridge and an electrical power substation, occurred. Hundreds of riot cops were deployed as the conflict dragged on over the summer.

While this action is most similar to the Palestinian Intifidah, the 1990 Oka Crisis also revealed the potential for an Indigenous uprising across the country based on similar methods using tactics that turned the dispersal of Native peoples into an advantage. This was the widely dispersed solidarity actions with the Mohawks carried out by Natives across the country that included protests, occupations of offices, road and railway blockades, and sabotage of rail & electrical power lines. Across the country, in remote areas, are vast quantities of infrastructure that can be potentially disrupted, including not only highway, rail, and power lines, but also oil & gas pipelines.

More than the military capacity of the Mohawk warriors, it was this potential for sabotage that served to limit the government’s use of deadly force to end the siege. And it is this potential, more so than ‘suicide bombings’, that may be the real future for Canada if it continues with its policies of colonization, apartheid, and genocide, policies that in themselves lead to the high rates of suicide among Native peoples. After all, why waste your life, right?


One Response to “Indigenous Intifada? From Gaza Strip to Six Nations”

  1. […] Indigenous Intifada? From Gaza Strip to Six Nations (2009) […]

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