Members of the 7th Generation Indigenous Visionaries (7thGIV) spoke about their experiences as part of the Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine at an Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) event held Sunday at UQAM.
Speaking at the event were Clifton Nicholas, a Mohawk activist from Quebec, as well as 7thGIV members Marei Spaola, Melissa Franklin, and Jodi Voice.
7thGIV is a grassroots organization from Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas. The group travelled to Palestine in August of 2009 to learn about the struggles Palestinians face as compared to those that North American First Nations people experience.
Having spoken in New York City and Toronto for IAW events there, Montreal was the third stop on their tour.
The idea to travel to Palestine first came to 7thGIV when some of its members, including those who spoke at the event, took a class called “Decolonization” at Haskell University. The course’s professor had traveled to Palestine previously, and drew parallels between the predicaments of Palestinians and First Nations people.
“We saw similarities with resolutions, treaties, and broken promises,” Franklin recalled.
During the planning of their trip, the Youth Delegation faced some setbacks. According to Voice, the U.S. government kept intervening in their plans, questioning professors at Haskell about how 7thGIV was receiving its money.
“We did take our group off campus, but they still harassed us. They got anyone they could to harass us, including Kansas senator Pat Roberts. It’s a sticky situation because our school is government-funded so these professors’ livelihoods are dependent on the governments,” Voice said.
Representatives for senator Roberts did not comment by press time.
After strong organizational and fundraising efforts, the trip finally became a reality. “The Palestinians wanted us to come over so we could all share each other’s culture, create connections, and strategize about how we can all create solidarity,” said Franklin.
“We believe it’s all one struggle. It’s not their struggle or our struggle. It’s everyone’s struggle. We are all human. We are all brothers and sisters in this world.”
During their three-week visit, the 7thGIV worked mostly with Palestinian youth in refugee camps, striving to accomplish their goal of finding connections between the Palestinians and themselves.
Voice said that a shocking connection was made between the two peoples. Even considering all the political and social issues the two cultures share. “We, as natives in North America, are extremely connected to the land, and we found the same to be true with those natives in Palestine,” Voice said. “Now they can’t even farm or do things that connect them to the earth because of the conditions of the lands they have been relocated to.”
Displacement is often seen by both Palestinians and First Nations people as being historically connected to an erosion of their cultural identity.
Moreover, said Voice, “Natives here can’t speak their language. In universities in Palestine, they can’t speak their language either. They have to take all of their exams in Hebrew…. The trip to Palestine made my history real.”
Spaola stated that native people in the United States are still struggling with the repercussions of Europeans’ colonization of North America. She went on to state that part of the process necessary to address native mistreatment is connecting with peoples facing similar struggles around the world.
Nicholas said, “We can bring hope back home by showing the natives here the struggles these people go through, and how in a sea of destruction, they are still determined to be Palestinian.”
This hope goes both ways, said Franklin. “The hope we gave to the Palestinians is that we’ve been under occupation for 500 years, and we are still here.”
“Even coming here to Montreal, we have learned about the struggles natives in Quebec are facing that we didn’t know existed before. Creating these connections is really important,” Franklin said.
After their speeches, the speakers were asked why they would go to Palestine instead of focusing their efforts on issues at home. Voice responded, “By organizing this, we created a platform for us to get to talk about our problems, as well as theirs.” She added, “Hope is an inherent thing. It passes all borders.”