By Jodi Voice
“We’re Indian… we’re political by default,” stated Ryan Red Corn at a panel where he and a fellow member of the often “politically driven” comedy group the 1491s were discussing their formation, work and what drives them at a Native American Heritage Month event held at the University of Texas at Arlington this past November. I heard this line, agreed, chuckled a bit, then took a look around me at the capacity-filled room and noticed the excitement on all the listeners’ faces, thinking of all the possibilities. I circled my focus back to the front of the room but could not shake the thought “Political? We’re not political, we just need help surviving this occupation against us.”
Months earlier, while corresponding with my friend Ahmed, whom I’d met in the summer of 2009 during The Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine, a similar conviction caught my attention: as Native Americans and as Palestinians, we are not necessarily political, nor all of us activists. We are inheritors of history trying to survive ongoing colonization.
While attending Haskell Indian Nations University in 2008, I met two fellow students, Melissa Franklin and Marei Spaola, who quickly became lifelong friends and fellow founding members of 7th Generation Indigenous Visionaries (7th GIV). The group helps build and strengthen solidarity among Indigenous peoples everywhere, with an emphasis on youth education. In March 2009, we began organizing a one-month delegation to Palestine to take place that summer.
I had never left the US before and had no idea what to expect. Upon arriving at Tel Aviv airport in July 2009, I was detained. “What are you?” I was repeatedly asked, to which I answered “Native American.” “NO, no, no… where did your father immigrate from?” to which I answered “Nowhere!” After being released from the security office, I found my fellow delegates, we gathered our thoughts and made our way to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank, where we would stay at the Ibdaa Cultural Center.
During The Indigenous Youth Delegation, we held many events and workshops. We showed our Palestinian friends what our round dances and two-step dances looked like, and they in turn shared their debkeh dance with us. A beat-making and lyricism workshop resulted in a song being recorded and included in the following issue of SNAG (Seventh Native American Generation) magazine. We held silk-screening and mural-making workshops, which allowed us to express ways to combat the issues associated with the Israeli apartheid wall. Both parties taught history lessons on each occupation, and then discussed the eerie similarities between the historical contexts. “Teach the youth media!” was something exclaimed by the delegation constantly, in hope that stories would be shared within, around and outside the camps. The delegation also facilitated workshops on writing, magazine-layout and setting up wordpress blogs.
We spent time in several places inside and outside the West Bank, from Dheisheh to Al Khalil (or Hebron) where Shufat Camp is located, which is entirely surrounded by the apartheid wall. We also spent time in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Balata Camp, Nablus, Beit Ummar, Jenin Camp, Aida Camp, Qalqiliya, Qalandia, Lyd, Akka, and everywhere we could stop in between. At times we strongly felt our own privilege of holding passports when we were allowed to enter places our Palestinian friends could not, traveling through or outside the West Bank.
We had a very memorable and emotionally taxing day when we took a trip to Lifta. Our friend took us to a mosque that Israeli settlers had turned into a trash dump, and which was also vandalized with awful ethnic slurs. Our youngest US delegate was brought to tears as he began to scrape the racist graffiti off as best as he could with a rock, and then a young Palestinian man he befriended on the trip began to help him.
There were times when we were frightened as well. IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) soldiers armed with machine guns would step on our bus to check passports and cameras. One incident that sealed our love and care for one another, and emboldened our strength to combat the occupation, occurred as an Israeli soldier in a watch/sniper tower shot the tire of a bus we were on. We continued our trek to the ominous wall on foot, as we learned about the environmental issues people in that particular camp, Qalqilya, were facing. Apparently, the shot was a result of us being too close to the Wall.
We grew on so many levels through how we related to each other. We shared our many affinities for hip-hop, dance, the necessity of humour, graffiti, and silk screening. But we were also aware of the effects of violence caused by a perpetual military occupation, and learned to share our feelings about it as well. We wrote together, and I still read and share these writings with others. Back home in Dallas, I was asked constantly by my peers, “Why not help your own people?” I always replied with “I do!” and then proceeded to share how it is important to keep connected to other situations affected by settler colonialism. Solidarity across borders will always matter.
Idle No More has taken hold in my particular urban community of Dallas, Texas — a site for the “relocation” of Native Americans by the government in the 1950s — and with the knowledge I gained as a part of the Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine I am helping this extremely important movement grow and thrive. Because of the delegation I learned important skills, such as conference calling, keeping note of times and places (not just recording your feelings), planning trips, fundraising, as well as the harder skills of organizing, such as being able to speak about occupation without crying. 7th GIV is not afraid to stand in solidarity with all Indigenous people. That is what being Indigenous is about, that is what our delegation to Palestine was about, and that is what the Idle No More movement is about: protecting each other and standing up for one another.
Jodi Voice, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, is Muscogee Creek, Oglala Lakota, and Cherokee. She is a founding member of 7th GIV (7th Generation Indigenous Visionaries) and met fellow founding members as a student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. Voice currently lives in Dallas, where she organizes educational and cultural events with a local Native American Parent Association. She also plans events to connect her Indigenous community to the Idle No More movement.