From the US to Palestine: Indigenous resistance to transnational settler colonialism

From the US to Palestine: Indigenous resistance to transnational settler colonialism
7 min read
04 Jul, 2023
This year's 4th of July marks 531 years of settler colonialism that led to the establishment of the US. Given this year also marks 75yrs of the Palestinian Nakba, Farrah Koutteineh reflects on the oppression & solidarity of both indigenous peoples.
Settler-colonial states like the US and Israel are predicated on the erasure of native populations and cultures, writes Farrah Koutteineh. [GETTY]

From Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation, two indigenous peoples over 6,000 miles apart, stand defiant against the same transnational settler colonial machine that their resistance is united against.

As 2023 marks the 75th year of the ongoing Nakba, the ongoing ethnic cleansing and colonisation of Palestinians from their indigenous lands, it also marks the 531st year of American settler colonial oppression of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (the pre-Columbian name for North America). Over half a millennium of systematic dispossession, erasure, forced relocation, and genocide.

It is estimated that in the first 100 years of the establishment of the United States alone, over 56 million indigenous peoples were murdered by European colonisers.

Before the settler colonial establishment of the United States in 1492, there were over 1,000 native nations. Today there are just over 600 indigenous tribes with only 574 being federally recognised, and the rest were systematically erased through violent settler colonisation. Today, these tribes are forced to live in just 2% of the country’s overall land mass allocated by the American government for reservations.

''The connection between Palestinian and indigenous movements in the US has a long history dating back to the 1970s, during the ascendance of anti-colonial and Third-World coalitions.''

Settler-colonial states like the US and Israel, are predicated on the erasure of native populations and cultures. Unlike other forms of imperialism, where one group extracts labour and exercises power over another, settler colonialism involves erasing and rewriting the systems, hierarchies, and maps of the people who inhabited the pre-colonised land. The act of settler colonialism is one of violent resource extraction, displacement and genocide followed by denial and a rewriting of history.

It is difficult to ignore the copious connections between the settler violence of the US and Israel. Both settler entities bear roots in religious fanaticism, are plundering indigenous resources at alarming rates, and are profoundly complicit in climate change.

American and Israeli settler colonialism have shared beginnings in religious fanaticism, exploiting religion whether that be Christianity or Judaism, to encourage followers of those religions to plunder, pillage and then ‘settle’ on native land. Both Christopher Columbus and David Ben Gurion were white-Europeans who came from affluent backgrounds and violently gained control of extensive land and resources for a white ruling class under the guise of religion. Two sides of the same coin. 

Additionally, historians who uncovered Columbus’s personal journal disclosed how his ultimate goal was in fact to conquer Palestine. According to one entry dated from the 26 December 1492, he stated that wanted to find enough gold “in such quantity that the sovereigns... will undertake and prepare to go conquer the Holy Sepulchre; for thus I urged Your Highnesses to spend all the profits of this my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem”.

Climate justice & indigenous people

Today, both the US and Israeli government are depleting Palestine’s and Turtle Island’s natural resources at terrifying rates.

The US is depleting the country’s oil reserves at lightning speed. It’s oil pipelines burrow underneath reservations, violate native treaty rights, cause oil spills, and their construction and maintenance facilitates multi-layered and gendered oppression of the indigenous population.

The US’s newest oil pipeline, ‘Line 3’ in Minnesota, brought an influx of thousands of workers with some staying on or near native reservations. Even before the pipeline’s construction was fully underway, two Line 3 contract workers were charged in a sex-trafficking sting involving indigenous women.

In fact, there has been a historical link between the construction and maintenance of oil and gas pipelines, and the disappearances, rape and murder of indigenous women.

The US’s National Crime Information Center states that there are 5,712 reports of missing native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases. Indigenous women are ten times more likely to be murdered than all other ethnicities in the US, and they are more likely to be raped or murdered than go to college.

Similarly, Palestinian human rights organisations have been contesting Israel’s corporate extraction and exploitation of Palestinian gas and oil for decades. Most alarmingly, Israel’s exploitation of the Dead Sea has resulted in it dramatically shrinking by almost a third since Israel’s existence in 1948, losing a metre of water per year and also causing apocalyptic sinkholes to occur around Palestine.

Due to recent escalations between Russia and Ukraine, a number of countries are now boycotting Russian gas and looking for alternatives elsewhere. In the past year alone Israel has signed numerous billion dollar gas contracts with the EU, where gas being used is extracted and stolen from Palestinian gas fields found beneath Gaza’s shores.

Whilst this stolen Palestinian gas is being extracted, pumped elsewhere and profiting Israel, there are cases of Palestinian children in Gaza freezing to death due to Israel’s blockade denying them access to their own supplies.

As climate change becomes an ever concerning crisis globally and its causes clearly pointing in the direction of settler colonial states like the US and Israel, the calls for indigenous sovereignty have been amplified now more than ever.

Rebecca Miles, the director of the Nez Perce tribe (ancestral name, Nimiipuu), a tribe with a history dating over 11,500 years to Turtle Island, explains how decolonisation and land sovereignty are an integral part of fighting climate change:

“There is one thing that all indigenous people of the world have in common, it is our connection to the land…We have known the land we come from for thousands of years. Most importantly, the land knows us, trusts us. We have been stewards of the land we come from for thousands of years, and in return, Mother Earth has provided for us. If you take us from our lands, you take our identity. This is the core reason I stand in solidarity with the right of return of Palestinians to their rightful homelands, where they choose to live, not a place chosen for them, and the right to govern their own affairs and their own people, not under any other foreign government rule. The land where Palestinians come from defines who they are.”

Miles further explains: “There is something about joining in solidarity as indigenous brothers and sisters that speaks volumes to the world, here we are, stewards of our own lands for thousands of years, with no climate issues, no inequality issues, no racism…Mother Earth is letting us know the resources are being pillaged beyond balance. This climate crisis is the imbalance she is teaching us.”

The connection between Palestinian and indigenous movements in the US has a long history dating back to the 1970s, during the ascendance of anti-colonial and Third-World coalitions. In 1974, Dennis Banks, a then leader of the Native American Movement, met with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who offered to support his armed takeover of the Wounded Knee Reservation in South Dakota, in protest of the US government’s disregard for its treaties with native Americans.

Most recently we have seen this unwavering indigenous solidarity at the barricades of new oil pipelines the US government has been trying to build across the country. Native Americans would wear Palestinian keffiyehs whilst protesting the construction of Line 3 & the DAPL pipeline, and the Palestinian Youth Movement delegations stood shoulder to shoulder with indigenous communities protecting their land from further colonial and corporate plunder.

Decolonisation and indigenous sovereignty from Turtle Island to Palestine is not only the just outcome for incomprehensible dispossession, occupation and genocide both native peoples continue to experience, but our planets very survival depends on it.

Farrah Koutteineh is founder of KEY48 - a voluntary collective calling for the immediate right of return of over 7.4 million Palestinian refugees. Koutteineh is also a political activist focusing on intersectional activism including, the Decolonise Palestine movement, indigenous people's rights, anti-establishment movement, women's rights and climate justice.

Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @key48return

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.