12 January 2017
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY / PALESTINE: It’s Harvest Time! Deer harvest in Short Hills and the olive harvest in Palestine.
by Rachelle Friesen
Every October after the first fall rain, Palestinian families gather together and go to their land to harvest olives. The ancient trees have become a meeting place for families to take a break from their busy lives, and pick the olives that will be used for food and oil. Often, the young men climb the trees and shake the olives down onto the tarps below, while the grandmothers sit on the ground sorting the olives from the branches and leaves. The other family members take part in picking olives from the lower branches, while the air is filled with laughter and parents’ scolding as mischievous children get into olive tossing fights. The olive harvest is not only about sustainable food production but an integral part of the Palestinian cultural identity.
Photo credit: CPT Palestine
Yet every year the olive harvest is interrupted by both the Israeli Military and Israeli settlers. Every year settlers harass and attack Palestinian families, trying to stop the harvest. When the Israeli Military arrives, it is often there to protect the settlers. Trying to push Palestinians from their land, the settlers jeopardize Palestinians’ economic sustainability; in addition they are attacking Palestinian cultural sustainability. As a Canadian living in Bethlehem, I was often invited to join the olive harvest to provide an avenue of international witness to the predictable Israeli harassment. My presence, along with other international and Israeli activists, was to support the harvest by documenting any violence and doing advocacy on how the Palestinian olive harvest was under attack.
I was reminded of these experiences as Christian Peacemaker Teams was asked to be a presence at the Haudenosaunee deer harvest in Short Hills Provincial Park. Through the treaties and their inherent Indigenous rights, the Haudenosaunee have the legal right to harvest deer every year. This practice is deeply cultural as well as important for food sustainability of the community. Yet every year, the Haudenosaunee are met with settlers protesting their right to hunt. Blocking the road into the park, yelling obscenities, holding placards that say ‘SHAME’ or ‘Stop the Killing’, taking pictures of the hunters, and even following their supporters home as an intimidation tactic, the settlers attempt to stop the hunt and stop a very important cultural Indigenous practice.
Photo Credit Murray Lumley
Once again, I found myself along with other settler allies, invited to take part in witnessing and documenting settler harassment against Indigenous people. The Ontario Provincial Police and the Niagara Regional Police came, yet rather than stopping the protesters who were illegally blocking trucks from entering and exiting the park, the police allowed the protest and blockade, claiming the importance of ‘keeping the peace’.
Settler colonialism, whether in Palestine, Turtle Island or elsewhere, aims to erase Indigenous presence from the land, including the Indigenous identity of the land while at the same time transplanting the settler identity onto the land. As settlers try to claim ownership of the land, they prevent Indigenous Nations from accessing, interacting, and being in relationship with the land. At times their process of removing the Indigenous from the land takes very overt forms, such as settler harassment and violence against Indigenous food sovereignty practices. Yet there are more subtle ways this can be done as well. As settlers try to impose their own identity on the land, as either Israelis or Canadians, they also impose their way of interacting with the land. Settlers determine what a ‘civilised’ interaction with the land is, and when the Indigenous do not submit or assimilate into that view, they are considered barbaric. How people interact with the land is deeply cultural, so when settlers determine how one must act with the land, they are taking part in the elimination of Indigenous culture.
The settlers protesting the Haudenosaunee harvest do it under the banner of animal rights. They claim that this is not about racism or colonialism; rather it is about stopping cruelty to animals. Yet, without an analysis of settler colonialism and recognition of the historic violence of the settler state forbidding Indigenous cultural practices, the protest becomes another tool of settler colonialism.
The struggles of the Palestinian olive harvest and the Haudenosaunee deer harvest are not the same, yet the comparison is important. The comparison helps us understand the deeply complex and insidious system of settler colonialism. When we compare the two, we can begin to understand that settler colonialism is not only about removing the Indigenous from the land, it is about eradicating Indigenous identity from the land. Removal is both physical and cultural. While ‘fighting’ for animal rights, the settlers in Canada, whether consciously or not, are actually advocating erasure of Indigenous culture.
Yet despite the disparity and frustration of the situation there remains hope. Regardless of the harassment and protests Palestinians continue to harvest their olives and the Haudenosaunee continue to harvest the deer. Their continued presence on their land is a symbol of resiliency against a system that seeks their destruction, proving that existence is resistance. In addition, through internationals and settlers joining to support both harvests we see how relationships can be transformed to work for decolonization and ultimately peace and justice.