It’s an interesting time to be indigenous.
Not because we don’t still have coloniser oppressors intent upon continuing to dominate the discourse; not because we have challenged the narratives; but because we are winning. I do not say this lightly, but we are winning because we have the just cause, the moral cause, and we are in the right. Whether you believe in God, the creator, karma, or good luck is irrelevant. We are winning because when the truth is on your side, people intuitively understand that. More and more people are not only speaking up for indigenous rights, but also trying to understand them.
To rephrase it, indigenous people are winning, not because we suddenly have all regained our ancestral lands and removed the colonising occupying forces, but rather, because we are able to openly speak and teach people the truth without repercussions. Even 30 years ago this was impossible. For some of us it’s never been about “getting rid of white people” but has only ever been about protecting the things we hold sacred and inviolate, protecting our lands and waters for the future instead of raping them for quick cash.The fact that we are alive, that we and our cultures are still here, is a win; and the fact that we are starting to get the word out, that’s a win, too.
It’s an interesting time, because for the first time, people are able to read and learn things about the world for themselves and no longer have to take someone else’s word or accept someone else’s interpretation. For instance, for more than 67 years the indigenous nature of the world’s first example of an indigenous people retaking their ancestral lands was recast (by colonialists) as a colonialist experiment. They denied the history, the anthropology, and the genetics that showed they were lying; but because the average person had limited access to knowledge, they managed to convince many that Israel was created by white Europeans who stole “Arab land.” However, like any other lie created in darkness and ignorance, it simply doesn’t hold up when brought into the light of day. I believe the reason they have done this is that they didn’t want other indigenous peoples seeing the possibilities before them, because once the precedent is set, it becomes a possibility instead of a pipe dream. Now that the indigenous nature of Israel is better – if still incompletely – understood, the colonialists are changing their tune. Now we hear, “But if it wasn’t for the colonialists, Israel wouldn’t exist.” Still, we see efforts to delegitimise what the indigenous Jewish people managed to accomplish with very little assistance. If you belong to an indigenous people, you understand what a huge deal it is for a displaced people to return and retake control of their sacred sites and ancestral lands; I have always believed that in some form or another it should be every indigenous people’s goal.
This is also an interesting time because now, in addition to Israel, other indigenous peoples have been successful at promoting their struggles – and some have even managed to start turning the tide. North Americans speak up and speak out against the desecration of our sacred sites and burial grounds, and the destruction of our lands and waters; and while there were always a few who spoke up, their voices were until now drowned out and marginalized. Today, I see non-Native people pick up the banner and walk beside us; and while we obviously have a long way to go, the fact that it’s even in the public discourse shows real movement.
It’s interesting, because in Mexico the Zapatistas have been defeated militarily; however, they achieved control over their education and have moved forward at an astonishing rate and are closer now to a state with self-determination than they have ever been before. They have come to understand that violence in today’s world cannot achieve the same things that education and intelligence can.
It’s interesting, because in the past few years in the Middle East we have seen polarisation and the rise of extremism, while at the same time we see fights for independence and freedom. While many people felt that radical Islam was ascendant, I watched the rise of the Kurdish people with quiet optimism. You see, the Kurds in the majority are fairly moderate Muslims. I believe this may be in part because they were forcefully converted, but also because they are an indigenous people who has never quite forgotten their indigenous history. They did not fall completely for “Arabisation” and have attempted to maintain their traditions as best they could as a marginalised minority within the Arab world. Because they hold their indigenous status to be so important and do not want to simply be a part of the majority, the Kurds are a bastion against Pan Arabism and the potential for a caliphate that would destabilise the entire Middle East.
Now, with the Arab winter upon us, with Syria descended into a civil war in which neither side is really “the good guy;” where Iraq seems a lost cause with its recent precipitous fall to ISIS; and where Afghanistan is about to become another lost cause; we can add Pakistan, an enemy who pretends to be a friend to that equation. We see that instead of propping up tyrannical regimes, we should instead support the moderates who want to build better lives for their people and not just fatten their wallets. Egypt is at a crossroads, and Jordan is about to reap the seeds of the oppression of the Palestinians who should have been allowed to move there and become citizens, but who instead were used to fight a war with Israel by proxy. Iran has internal trouble because its own people are fed up with a foreign religion telling them that their history is moot. Islam in its current form is inimical to the Iranian mindset; it can be difficult to remember that this is a country that wrote the first human rights based constitution. By showing such disrespect to the history and culture of the Iranian people, they lost much popular support; that miscalculation led to the start of the Arab winter, because “one person, one vote” democracy is alien to Islamic countries and in fact runs counter to Islam, which teaches that Muslims must always be in charge.
But what’s really fascinating about all of this is that the many indigenous peoples who were subsumed by the rise of Islam have begun to realise what they have lost, and they want it back. Perhaps right now it’s just the Kurds, but what happens when other peoples who still exist as fractured groups suddenly become unified? What happens when the Balochis, the Amazigh, the Berbers, the Druze, the Assyrians and Copts all begin to realise that lines on a map mean nothing, and that it is bloodlines and culture that matter?
Yes, this is an interesting time to be indigenous.
Ryan Bellerose is a Metis from Paddle Prairie Alberta. He founded Canadians for Accountability, a Native rights advocacy group, and is an Idle No More movement organizer. As an indigenous rights activist, He is also a founding member in the Calgary United with Israel (CUWI) organization and is a self-proclaimed Zionist."