Indigenous Intifada: Federal MP Compares Natives to Palestinians

Indigenous Intifada
Federal MP Compares Natives to Palestinians

(Article from “Victory” publication of Victoria Native Youth, 2002, republished in Wii’nimkiikaa, Issue One, 2004)

Vancouver MP and junior minister for Indian Affairs Stephen Owen caused controversy in early February, 2002, when he compared young natives in Canada to Palestinian militants:

“Canada’s native communities represent a ‘tinderbox’ full of restless native youths ready to explode in violence if progress isn’t made in treaty talks”

Owen likened young natives in Canada to Palestinian militants in Israel in his startling warning.

“If you see kids in an impoverished native village, with three generations of welfare behind them and no hope for the futures, and they’re even moved to perhaps that most horrible statistic of despair, which is youth suicide, they are very vulnerable to someone coming in with a gun and a warrior ethic and saying ‘Why waste your life? Be a martyr…'”

“That hasn’t happened, But if it’s happening in the Gaza strip, if we are tolerating similar conditions of despair that will drive kids to commit suicide, that’s a tinderbox.”
(Vancouver Sun, Feb. 5/02)

Owen was pomoted in January/02 as secretary of state for both Indian affairs and Western Economic Diversification. He was also deputy attorney general in B.C. during the month long seige of Ts’peten (Gustafsen Lake), in 1995.

“If we had 3 or 4 of those at once in the province, we would have had to call in the aid of the armed forces [which they did during Gustafsen Lake] -except they might have been in another country. So there’s a vulnerability here.”

Owen also used his warnings to promote the treaty process, saying:

“If we’re not moved by the injustice of it or the economic self-interest, then maybe at least we can eventually be moved by the security concerns.”

Robert Nault, head of Indian Affairs [at the time], dismissed Owen’s comments, saying he didn’t believe there was any militancy among aboriginal youth. A Times Colonist [Daily newspaper in Victoria B.C.] editorial countered this, saying:

“There are, indeed, pockets of militancy on Canadian reserves… but any comparison of the potential problems here to the suicide missions perpetrated by the Palestinians cannot be substantiated.” (Times Colonist, Feb.7/02)

Owen’s comments are similar to other ‘warnings’ routinely issued by the RCMP, CSIS, politicians, and even band chiefs. Their purpose is to legitimize state repression of Indigenous struggles and marginalize our movement. They are also used to promote government policies -or the neo-colonial Aboriginal elite themselves-as the ‘reasonable’ and therefore ‘peaceful’ means to resolve issues (as opposed to the dark and sinister militants waiting in the shadows…)

Are we ready to “explode in violence” if progress isn’t made in treaty talks? Hardly. Most militants are opposed to treaties to begin with. Duhhh!

Owen’s comparison of Natives to the Palestinians deserves a closer look, however. There are indeed parallels between our struggle and Indigenous peoples and the Palestinians. Both are struggles being waged against colonization and genocide!


Despite some Jewish claims of an ‘historical right’ to the state of Israel, it is a conialist regime, set up first as a British interest and now a US fortress in the Middle East.

Jews were expelled from the Palestinian region by the Romans in the Second Century AD [year 0001]. Settling in Europe, they experienced both prosperity and persecution.

Beginning in the 19th Century [1800’s], European Jews began organising a Zionist movement aimed at settlement and eventually control of Palestine. Zionism is a political-religious movement that asserts a spiritual and historical right to the Holy Land. The Nazi Holocaust of WW 2 served to reinforce the Zionist plan, as did Western interests in Mid-East oil. This was accomplished in 1947, when the United Nations divided Palestine and created Israel.

In 1948, there was war as Arabs resisted the partition of their territories. With Western backing, Israel took control of nearly 77 percent of Palestinian land. Thousands of Palestinian homes were demolished, and entire towns relocated or forced out as refugees.

Whether or not one agrees with a ‘spiritual and historical’ right to territory, the colonial and apartheid regime established over Palestinians by Israel is oppressive and genocidal.

As it is, Israel only exists as a geo-strategic interest of the united states, who fund and equip Israel’s powerful military.

In 1967 Isreal went to war with neighbouring Arab states, including Egypt, Syria and Jordan. During this Six Day War, Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They have come to be known as the ‘Occupied Territories,’ Where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live under Israeli military control.

Once Israel had secured the occupied territories, they imposed curfews, check points, detentions, imprisonment, and deportations.

The Israeli government and military set up administrative control of the occupied territory, including schools and a pass system to move from area to area. Employment centers were established which screened workers for Israeli buisinesses.

Throughout the ’70’s Palestinians in the occupied territories experienced both greater material wealth wealth and repression. In truth, their prosperity was based on the dependence [on] and exploitation by Israeli businesses.

By 1987, two generations of Palestinians had lived under Israeli occupation. In December of that year, following the death of four Palestinians in the refugee camp of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, an uprising began which saw thousands of Palestinian youths fighting in the streets, with sticks and stones, against Israeli soldiers. This was an uprising of an entire generation and was known as the Intafada (uprising).

The Intifada was in part influenced by the inability of the Palestinian political leadership to mobilize the people in resistance to Israeli aggression, control, and expansion. Arafat and the P.L.O., in fact, were in exile. Instead, the backbone of the Intafada were the youth and women, neighourhood committees and informal community networks.

But the children of the West Bank and Gaza, who are less intimidated by the Israelis than the older generation, are often the most militant element of the population. It is they who frequently push their elders into action against the Istaeli Army. Since they are the vanguard of the Intifada, it should not be surprising that the young Palestinians are its principal victims. (Imperial Israel: the history of the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Michael Palumba, 1990, p.222)

The tactics of the Intifada included organized boycotts of Isreali businesses, strikes, public demonstrations, radio, leaflets, direct action, and riots. One observer compared it to a fairly sophisticated strategy for urban guerrilla warfare, without the usual weapons. Against this resistance, Israel began to use ever greater repression.

When the Intifada began, Israeli soldiers used mostly tear gas and rubber bullets. Many young people were wounded and even killed during confrontations (and many of these from rubber bullets). Thousands of mostly young men were imprisoned or exiled. Collective punishment of entire towns included cutting electricity, imposing curfews, or sealing areas off to prevent travel.

Despite this, Palestinian resistance to Israeli control and expansion has continued.

The present conditions of all-out war by Israeli military forces, and retaliatory attacks by suicide bombers, shows the levels of desperation reached by many Palestinians.

They also reveal the strength of the Islamic resistance groups such as Hamas and the martyr’s brigades, as well as the conviction of the martyrs themselves. These methods of struggle reflect historical, cultural, religious, and material conditions unique to the Middle East, and to Palestine in particular.

There are clearly many lessons to be drawn from the Palestinian Intifada, which arose out of conditions similar to our own as Indigenous peoples. This is natural, since we also live in occupied territories. Despite this, there are some differences. Duhhh!

Concentration of Forces

In the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in refugee camps, villages towns, and cities. In the Jabalia refugee camp where the Intifada first began, approx. 65, 000 people live in 2 square kilometres of land.

In Canada, our populations are far more dispersed, and it is difficult to concentrate large numbers into one area. At the same time, the state’s security forces are also spread out in rural areas. Although they can concentrate their forces, this takes time to mobililze and organize.

The concept of an ‘Indigenous Intafada’ -form of resistance was first discussed after the 1990 Oka Crisis. At that time, some warriors questioned the usefullness of armed confrontations and standoffs. They suggested it might be more effective to adopt the Palestinian-style of “low level conflict.”

By its very nature, the tactics of the Intifada involve larger numbers of people than armed standoffs. These methods can potentially mobilize entire communities into action, ranging from boycotts, to strikes, to direct action — all of which involce people in the struggle.

Another aspect of the Intifada-style of conflict is that it portrays civilian populations fighting against miliatary/police forces, thereby limiting the state’s abiity to isolate resistance to an armed group of ‘terrorists.’

Of course, overall, NYM (Native Youth Movement) and other social movements do have a hard time in the face of widespread apathy and presnet social conditions. But here’s another tip from the Palestinian Intifada:

“How is it possible, after 20 years of reletive docility, that on 9 December, 1987, the Palestinians in the occupied territories could explode with such sustained fury? At the outset, few observers could have anticipated the remarkable endurance of the Palestinian protesters.” (Imperial Israel, p.241)


In regards to martyrs, we do indeed want to overcome the phenomenon of suicide among Native youth. Not to send them out as suicide bombers, but to awaken them to reality, to give them the will to live, and to resist.

We do not seek martyrdom –martyrs occur as a result of the deadly repression used be our enemies, and the self-sacrifice of our warriors in defense of our people (for example, Dudley George is a martyr, shot and killed at Aazhoodena -Ipperwash, Ontario- in 1995 by the police.

As warriors whose role is to defend our people, suicidal actions are contrary to our goal. Dead warriors cannot defend their people.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge that our duties require we give our life for our people. In this sense, we are already martyrs. And in a time of conflict, we may indeed be required to sacrifice our selves in defense of others.

This is what makes us warriors, and why we can acknowledge the warrior spirit of the Palestinian martyrs. After all, why waste your life, right?

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