By Chris Sankey, October 20, 2023
Like millions of people around the world, I woke up to the devastating news from southern Israel over Thanksgiving weekend. Hundreds of innocent civilians had been murdered by Hamas terrorists, carried out in the name of the complete and total destruction of the State of Israel. My mind went immediately to my friends in the area. I could only hope, powerlessly, that they were safe.
I could scarcely imagine then that, within days, I’d witness pro-Hamas demonstrations take place openly in my own country. Vile chants like “off with their heads” (in reference to reports of Hamas beheading babies) and calls for further violence against Israel have filled the air over the past two weeks. Islamic Jihad and Taliban flags have even been spotted at protests. This is not freedom of expression or protected speech.
Why are our leaders letting this happen in OUR country? Where is the Emergency Act? The prime minister, who did not hesitate to label Freedom Convoy activists as Nazis and a threat to democracy, is now nowhere to be found while hundreds of hate-filled protestors flood the streets advocating violence against Jewish people.
The Liberal government, with the support of the NDP, invoked the Emergency Act to shut down peaceful freedom convoy protests last year – the most egregious thing those protestors did was honk their horns. They were nevertheless lumped in with terrorists and hate groups. Yet today, when Hamas sympathizers utter chants invoking the ethnic cleansing of 7 million Israeli Jews in the very same streets – nothing!
Even the CBC, Canada’s trusted national broadcaster, has failed in its duty to properly inform Canadians on this matter. Emails show that the broadcaster’s Director of Journalistic Standards, George Achi, instructed his reporters not to use the word “terrorism” when reporting the horrific attacks of terrorism by Hamas militants against innocent babies, women and children. Achi essentially asked his staff to lie to Canadians and showed that he doesn’t even have the decency to condemn cold-blooded murder. He must be held accountable for his cowardice.
But what has troubled me the most has been the frequency with which my peoples’ struggle for reconciliation has been invoked to justify the bloodshed, often by so-called ‘experts’ in the academy. This is an absurd and, frankly, offensive comparison as Indigenous Canadians and Palestinians stand worlds apart.
We’ve had our challenges and past struggles here in Canada but have nevertheless been able to make substantial progress on reconciliation through non-violent means. Indigenous communities have signed billions of dollars’ worth of agreements with governments and have regained control of thousands of hectares of our traditional territories through legal land transfers. Our communities now stand on the cusp of a real and sustained rebirth. While there’s still a long way to go, the progress we’ve seen in recent years should nevertheless be recognized.
As an Indigenous Canadian and someone who has spent decades working at various levels of Indigenous government, I was appalled by these lazy comparisons to the plight of Palestinians. While I do not ignore deny our devastating history — from residential schools, to lingering intergenerational trauma and the dispossession of our lands — I believe we are on the right path to self-determination as a sovereign First Nation. Our history is our own story to tell because it happened to us and has taken many years to overcome – and there are still more years left to go before we finally put the past behind us and move forward.
Sadly, there are some in my own community who are all too willing to play along with this ruse. At a recent panel hosted by UBC professor Naomi Klein, Kanahus Manuel of the Tiny House Warriors and Molly Wickham of the Wet’suet’en Nation openly called on anarchists to team up with Indigenous people to cause civil unrest. In doing so, they not only embarrassed themselves; they brought shame to their respective communities and embarrassed all Indigenous Canadians.
Both Manuel and Wickham claim that Indigenous elected leaders do not speak for hereditary house groups on any issues outside our communities and that no hereditary leaders are elected to our governing bodies. They assert elected chiefs and councils are just another arm of the federal government. If they truly understood why we work toward real independence from the Government of Canada, they would have never set up blockades. We participate in these negotiations to secure sole-source revenues so we do not have to rely on government handouts.
My own community of Lax Kw’ Alaams and communities like it have no problem electing hereditary leaders. Every single individual I served with is a part of our hereditary system and held high-ranking titles and positions. We are striving to work more inclusively. We recognize that we are stronger together. The elected body holds land in trust so that no one individuals can take advantage of the lands by the sale of fee simple or status lands, which are tax exempt. When Manuel and Wickham call for civil unrest, they undermine the progress of their brothers and sisters.
Manuel and Wickham are supported by the likes of Franklin Lopez, a staple figure in the Canadian anti-authority far-left for years and founder of multimedia company sub.media. Over the years, he’s produced seditious films like Oil Pipelines Are Easy To Shut Down and How to Paralyze a Country. They and others were also inspired by Andreas Malm’s book How to Blow Up a Pipeline, which offered a set of instructions on how to do so. This is what some academics appear to embrace.
University of Toronto professor Chandni Desai recently published a paper in the Journal of Palestine Studies called “Indigenous Intifadas and Resurgent Solidarity from Turtle Island to Palestine”. The article likens the Wes’t suwet’en land sovereignty struggle to a series of Palestinian terror campaigns. Desai, who is neither Indigenous nor Palestinian, also teaches a course on so-called ‘anti-colonial resistance’ in Israel and Canada. This is a deliberate misconstrual of history that ought to be revised or not taught at all.
Other notable academics like Wilfrid Laurier University Social Work Professor Jessica Hutchison and McMaster University’s CUPE Local 3906 asked their colleagues to show support for Palestinians after the mass murder of innocent Israelis, claiming Palestinians are righteously taking back their land.
Seriously? Israelis have 3,000 years of history on that land. The State of Israel, even with notable flaws, is one of the greatest examples of indigenous reclamation in the world. In fact, it is known they are indigenous to the lands since 1,200 BC, nearly two millennia before the Arab occupation of Syria and Palestine in the mid-600s (AD). The Jews have been there long before the Arabs and Muslims. Jerusalem is their capital and has been for three thousand years. The Jewish are not colonizers nor are they occupiers. Canadian professors and academic support staff need to get their history right.
The Israelis gave Gaza to the Palestinian people and left Gaza in 2005. There currently over two million Arabs living in Israel, the vast majority of whom are citizens who are entitled to the same legal rights as their Jewish neighbours. There are Arabs in the Israeli Defense Forces. Arab Israelis are also police officers, belong to political parties (including the United Arab List), and participate in governments as members of the Knesset. This is not to say that they face no discrimination, but Arabs in Israel arguably enjoy greater democratic and civil liberties than they do anywhere else in the region. By contrast, there are signs on the road to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank that warn Jewish people not to enter the area. Today, no Jewish people live in Gaza.
Comparing us to Palestinians robs both us and them of our respective histories. I cannot imagine living in a society where war is normalized in order to keep the peace against terrorism. It is unfathomable to me and does not give any one of us the right to compare First Nations’ experiences with those of the Palestinians – or any other subjugated peoples, for that matter. That is their story to tell.
Israelis have a right to defend themselves and Palestinians have a right to be liberated from Hamas – – a terrorist entity so consumed by hatred that it has no qualms about using Palestinian children and hospital patients as human shields. We can only hope for peace, resolve and unity. It’s not our place to project our own politics onto a conflict half a world away.
Chris Sankey is a former elected Councilor for Lax Kw’alaams Band, businessman and Senior Fellow for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.