The Jewish people are all too familiar with discriminatory policies from oppressive governments. So when we see that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper actively supports Israel as a Jewish state and simultaneously leads state repression against Canada’s First Nations – helping create new laws that will continue to strip indigenous peoples of their lands and push them further into poverty and struggle for survival – we must stand up.
The unprecedented peaceful uprising of indigenous peoples that began December 10 in protest of Bill C-45 and quickly spread across Canada is a manifestation of Native American justice with spiritual and cultural foundations, which supports all humankind. A statement from the Idle No More movement’s manifesto, “All people will be affected by the continued damage to the land and water and we welcome Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies to join in creating healthy sustainable communities,” is a call to promote and prioritize life on Earth – a central Jewish virtue. This social movement rooted in the historic struggle of indigenous peoples is founded in First Nations’ spiritual traditions, is reviving religious practices and is uniting native youth.
Peaceful Protest the Old Way – Fasting and Dancing
The day after Idle No More launched as a National Day of Solidarity and Resergence, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence began fasting December 11, and refuses to eat until Canadian Prime Minister Harper and the Crown will meet with her to discuss treaties and aboriginal rights. Others are fasting in solidarity, while many more have been eating at celebratory feasts with the intention of feeding Chief Spence’s spirit. A blockade of a CN rail line arose to support Chief Spence’s demands lasting over a week so far, and more direct actions of civil disobedience are expected. Chief Spence’s hunger strike continued through the holidays and she has emerged as a respected elder for the massive movement that has swept the nation and the planet.
Flash mobs in the form of traditional native Circle Dances have filled airports and malls with hundreds of indigenous people and allies across Canada. The Round Dance Revolution can best be tracked through social media, and some of the most viral videos include footage from Edmonton (over 56,000 views), Toronto (over 19,000 views), and Saskatoon (over 11,000 views).
Solidarity flash mob circle dances are also taking place in numerous US cities. In Minneapolis, American Indian Movement Leader Clyde Bellecourt was drinking coffee in the mall December 24 after the peaceful 20-minute circle dance that he was not involved in planning. He was arrested by police for refusing to leave. The police treatment of Bellecourt is a grim reminder of the state of democracy and the status of indigenous peoples in the United States.
Statements and expressions of solidarity with Idle No More and Chief Spence have caught on globally, from the indigenous Maori women of New Zealand to Navajos in New Mexico, from the Nasa people of Colombia to youth leaders in Ukraine. A google map of the world best portrays the massive scale of Idle No More actions.
Jewish Responsibility – Idle No More!
Jewish individuals, organizations, and publications globally have a special responsibility to engage positively with Idle No More and demand justice from the government of Canada for its First Nations. From wherever we are based, we have every reason to follow the examples of labor organizations, academics, artists, writers, and others who have published statements of solidarity with Idle No More.
The tikkun of Jewish engagement in Idle No More has many layers. Restoring justice in the Americas begins with the indigenous peoples. Beyond that, we Jews can relate as an indigenous people with a profound spiritual relationship to our ancestral homeland. We revere the significance of burial sites, sacred sites, and land as sustenance. In every generation Jews across the globe have experienced marginalization and violence. As a spiritual people, Israel intimately understands what it means to “walk in two worlds” and to wrestle with the pressures of assimilation. In many of our annual holidays, we recall how our Creator saves the People Israel from destruction when we return or cleave to our spiritual heritage.
To mark Hanukkah in 2011, Prime Minister Harper eloquently stated, “More than two thousand years ago, a small group of Jewish believers overcame the odds and courageously defeated and repelled their oppressors, liberating Jerusalem and reclaiming the Holy Temple as their own… Born out of the triumph of light over darkness, of freedom over oppression and of tolerance over persecution, this celebration reminds us that miracles can occur even in the darkest of moments, and that justice must always overcome tyranny.”
As the modern Jewish state has graciously received Harper’s support for its existence, it is critical that we remind him that these dynamics of oppression in our story of Chanukah also exist under his own leadership in Canada. The Jewish people have a special obligation to impel Prime Minister Harper to promptly meet with Chief Theresa Spence as a first step to restoring justice for Canada’s First Nations.