These analytical and political connections between different communities suggest that Palestinian and Indigenous liberation movements are inextricably bound in what feminist author and professor Nadine Naber describes as “conjoined struggle.” Reflecting upon internationalist formations of solidarity that Black and Palestinian activists have built across struggles and generations, Naber suggests that oppressed communities “should look to one another not because their struggles share similarities, but because their struggles are conjoined — and have been so for some time.” What joins these communities together is that they share a common enemy in global power structures of violence and brutality. The US-Israeli alliance; US-led empire building, militarism and war, neoliberal economics and white supremacy are among the conjoined forces of global power that structure Indigenous, Black and Palestinian oppression. Key to resisting these conjoined forces is building collective power and solidarity across difference, which in turn tends to the formation of the above-mentioned constellations of co-resistance. Conjoining struggles cultivates co-resistance.
Palestinian organizations and Palestine solidarity activists further conjoined with Indigenous struggles by actively participating in various Indigenous land reclamation actions in the mid-2000s, including at Secwepemc Nation at the Suns Peak Resort, at Grassy Narrows, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Barrier Lake and Ardoch, and on Haudenosaunee land in Tyendinaga, Kanenhstaton, Kanehsatà:ke, Kahnawá:ke and at Six Nations. Organizers in the Palestinian liberation movement also showed their solidarity by actively supporting the release of native political prisoners Shawn Brant, the KI Six and others.
Analytically, organizers within these movements deepened their anti-colonial politics by centering the question of decolonization in all its forms, paying particularly close attention to the issue of land and dispossession. In 2005, after the Palestinian call for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” the joint struggle towards decolonization also inspired dialogue and discussions between organizers across Turtle Island exploring ways to grow the international solidarity movement with Palestine.
Palestinians adopted the tactic of boycott during the initial period of colonization in the early 1900s. The contemporary use of the tactic of boycott was internationalized as various localized groups around the world began to develop BDS campaigns in solidarity with Palestine, inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. Global movements including Indigenous struggles also expressed their solidarity with BDS, in particular the Idle No More movement, the Red Nation and coalitions that have explicitly called for the boycott, divestment and sanctions of the Israeli state.
What joins these communities together is that they share a common enemy in global power structures of violence and brutality.
Indigenous nations and Palestinians have also challenged their oppressors through fierce disruption of economic activities, such as the economic boycotts during the 1987 Palestinian Intifada, the blocking of critical infrastructure such as rail lines and highways to disrupt supply chains in Canada and the development of self-reliance strategies to minimize economic dependence on the colonial state. Widespread economic disruption intensified through direct action and Indigenous militancy. Mass insurgencies in the 1970s and 1980s produced political-economic crises that forced both Canada and Israel to enter into negotiations with Indigenous nations and Palestinians respectively in an effort to maintain the settler state’s sovereignty and dominant capitalist economies.
Such disruptions are crucial because when movements can disrupt the flow of capital within settler economies, colonial states are forced to consider Indigenous concerns and demands. Still, when the state attends to Indigenous demands it often tends to fold them within the structures of the regime. The shift of the Canadian state’s approach to Indigenous resistance under the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is one example of this.
The Trudeau government fully embraced what Dene scholar Glen Coulthard calls “the politics of recognition” and its accompanying spectacle of reconciliation. Recognition shifted the focus away from Indigenous land claims and sovereignty to shared history and cultural recognition — essentially disavowing the material demands of Indigenous nations and embracing their cultural identities and practices as part of assimilating them into the “multicultural” state. This is why the ongoing Wet’suwet’en resistance against extractive industry projects such as the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the ensuing economic shutdown of Canada have been so significant: they exposed the veneer of reconciliation for what it is and pronounced it dead.
In the case of Israel, Trump’s “peace plan” explicitly revealed itself as an Israeli economic endeavor that simply perpetuates land theft, dispossession, settlement construction, consolidates apartheid and liquidates Palestinian aspirations to a state, self-determination and the right of return. Mass Palestinian rejection of the plan again exposed “peace” for the facade it has been for a long time, from the Oslo Accords to the Trump plan. Popular resistance committees across occupied Palestine continue to organize weekly protests against the ongoing annexation of Palestinian land, water and other resources.
Another space through which Indigenous peoples and Palestinians have expressed their kinship, solidarity and relationality to one another is through art. In 1992, the renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote “The Red Indian’s Penultimate Speech to the White Man” in which he describes the elimination of Indigenous life by European settlers. Amid theft and erasure, the poem identifies the kinship that he as a Palestinian has with understanding conquest and the “war of elimination” of both the living and the dead. He recites,
Columbus, the free, looks for a language
he couldn’t find here,
and looks for gold in the skulls of our good-hearted ancestors.
He took his fill from our living
and our dead.
So why is he bent on carrying out his war of elimination
from the grave, until the end?
In 2012, as Gaza was being bombed, the late Sto:lo author and Indigenous feminist Lee Maracle wrote a poem titled “Remember Mahmoud 1986.” Maracle met Darwish in the 1970s in Vancouver during the PLO’s visit and recited Darwish’s poetry at a gathering. Inspired by his poetry and their interactions, she memorializes him in the poem by addressing the ongoing Palestinian Nakba that continues to eliminate Palestinian life. Maracle compared the shelling of the open-air prison to the massacre of Wounded Knee tying genocide of Indigenous peoples across territories. She ends her poem with her expression of solidarity with Palestine by underscoring her commitment to the struggle as an internationalist, centering Indigenous kinships and co-resistance across time and space,
My commitment to Palestine
Floats on the light emanating from his eyes and captures my heart
I whisper Palestine, Palestine – Free Palestine
Wounded Knee, Wounded Knee, no more Wounded Knees
I imagine him listening, hearing me
Just before he throws his stones
The poetry of Darwish and Maracle not only discusses the colonial past and present, but also expresses their shared revolutionary consciousness and internationalist political orientation, which has been profoundly influential for generations that have followed after them. Their poetic solidarity has inspired a new generation to produce poetry that connects their struggles. For example, the Palestinian spoken word poet Rafeef Ziadah has written several poems connecting the Indigenous/Palestinian struggle and experience. A poignant line from her poem “Trail of Tears” captures the ongoing forced dispossession and its devastating impacts from Palestine to Six Nations. She recites: “We are still walking a Trail of Tears from Tyendinaga to Six Nations”.
Cree writer Erica Violet Lee wrote her poem “Our Revolution” during the 2014 Israeli massacre on Gaza. In it she memorializes the stories of colonial violence enacted upon Indigenous/Palestinian women and girls. She writes,
You and me, we know violence:
The pain of our mothers,
The memories of this land
We share a history of being moved,
Taken from our homes
And wondering if we’ll ever go back
You and me
We’re the nation
And this is for the mother and daughter leading movements from Gaza to the grasslands
Erica Violet Lee connects the gendered violence of colonialism and the ways in which it shapes the realities of Indigenous women across settler geographies through poetry, placing them into conversation by threading their memories of resistance in their shared revolution. Art is an important site of struggle as colonial forces continue to suppress, censor and erase Indigenous narratives, thought and culture. It is also an invaluable space for expressing poetic solidarity, speaking with each other across time and space and developing anti-colonial kinships as part of the struggle.
Indigenous struggles from Turtle Island to Palestine have many lessons to teach social movements today. The first is the necessity of direct action and economic disruption: when resistance is organized to disrupt flows of capital, settler states and their allies are forced to take Indigenous demands seriously. Another important lesson is to trace the circulation of goods that are produced in settler states to connect global power structures and their regimes of violence transnationally. Consider, for example, the Israeli weaponry that is routinely tested on Palestinians — particularly during attacks on Gaza — and are sold on the global market to various countries and used against marginalized populations within those states.
Another lesson to glean from these struggles is the importance of developing meaningful principled solidarity by building constellations of connections by either supporting one another’s actions, establishing joint campaigns and developing relationships, as well as cultural production that can sustain our spirits.
A poignant example that encapsulates some of these lessons was witnessed during the recent attacks on Gaza and Jerusalem, as Palestinians organized a general strike across all of historic Palestine on May 19 2021 and reiterated their appeal for meaningful international solidarity especially in the form of BDS. When the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions called for solidarity, we witnessed the remarkable solidarity of trade unions — specifically dock workers from Italy, South Africa, the US and Canada who heeded the call and refused to handle cargo from ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd., the largest and oldest Israeli cargo shipping company. Following the successful blockage of a ZIM container ship in Oakland in early June, it then sailed to Prince Rupert Port, Canada, where it was prevented from docking at the port on June 14 after a group of organizers blocked the entrance to the container terminal. The ship was turned away before being allowed to unload its cargo a few days later. First Nations activists and local unionized dock workers united in Prince Rupert Port as part of the #BlockTheBoat campaign.
Years of struggle have taught us that solidarity has to be based on shared principles of liberation.
Such acts are significant as they rupture the flow of both Israeli and global capital. Lara Kiswani, a leader with Block the Boat and executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in an interview with AJ+ said: “It’s incredible what we’re seeing. The First Nation siblings in Prince Rupert were able to demonstrate what international solidarity is, and what’s at stake for us to stand in solidarity with Palestine, because they understand settler colonialism.”
The disruption of capital — in this instance of the ZIM ship — was only possible because of international solidarity that was practiced across various locals and movements and organized in a collective campaign to #BlockTheBoat. This type of struggle is at times challenging, as such intentional work is consistently needed to build solidarity between struggles ethically, responsibly and carefully.
There are many pitfalls that we must be mindful of in the process of trying to build such solidarity. Over the past few decades, those within these struggles have cautioned against tokenism, organizing models that are based on crisis responses rather than sustained movement building. Another is colonial exceptionalism, in which activists engage in a form of “oppression Olympics” — essentially competing to establish who is more oppressed. This work requires organizers and movements to consider challenging hetero-patriarchal, gendered, sexual and racial violence towards each other.
Years of struggle have taught us that solidarity has to be based on shared principles of liberation. This demands a commitment to mutual self-determination and collective visions for the transformation of society — essentially adopting a politics of co-resistance. Most importantly, while building internationalist solidarity is crucial during these times, it is imperative that movements do not collapse distinct specificities of the colonial condition within their local geographies through frameworks of historical similarities.
Also important is to ensure that local elites and their political economic agendas are challenged. For example, some members within Band Councils in the context of Canada or the Palestinian Authority which governs the occupied West Bank have been complicit in collaborating with the settler states that oppress their peoples. Thus, it is imperative to not only resist the settler state but also to oppose Indigenous collaborators that reproduce and capitulate to capitalist state violence.
This also reveals the limits of identity politics. On the one hand, identity is important to consider as violence is organized and enacted through the use of class, racial, gendered and sexual logics. On the other hand, it is necessary to be critical of the native bourgeoisie class that advance the colonial states’ agendas.
When movements are uncritical of the internal contradictions within their membership, communities, or of their representatives and leaders, or espouse uncritical politics within their ranks, it can hinder solidarity formations. Otherwise, organizers and movements can become complicit in advancing colonial and neoliberal “politics of recognition” and “peace” and/or other forms of capitalist violence.
While conjoined struggle can be messy and is often embedded with tensions, contradictions and limitations, it is crucial that political movements in this time continue to strengthen their structural analysis of the capitalist colonial logics of elimination. A central tenet of international solidarity is that it has to be based on shared principles of liberation, demanding a commitment to mutual self-determination and collective visions for the transformation of society.
Gleaning insights from these lessons mentioned is one of the necessary conditions for deepening constellations of co-resistance that organizers and movements have taught us from Turtle Island to Palestine. By establishing material bonds, enacting and embodying a politics of internationalism and unifying and globalizing these struggles, new possibilities and alternative pathways can be imagined and actualized to escape settler colonialism and its logics. To truly decolonize and abolish systems of oppression and exploitation. As Lee Maracle reminds us in her poem “Blind Justice”:
We will need to nourish our imagination
To include a new equality
And summon our souls, our hearts and our minds to a justice,
which includes all life