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Ryan Bellerose: Conversation with a Metis About Israel
From Israzine Nov., 2014: "Zionism, An Indigenous Struggle: Aboriginal Americans and the Jewish State"
I have some interesting conversations sometimes. That comes from being Métis. Métis are known as the “bridge people,” which means that we are often seen as the go-betweens for white people and Indians. What it really means is that we don’t really fit in anywhere completely, unless it’s with our own people or oddly enough another group of people who have been marginalized and oppressed like the Jews.
Anyway, when talking about the commonalities between Jews and Indians, I often deal with some ingrained prejudices. You see, most natives are Christians who have been indoctrinated with prejudices towards Jews, and when you add the fact that most people who have been fighting for native rights also have a left-wing bias, you add in people who have been only ever told the false narrative of Palestinian indigenous status and surface commonalities.
I work hard to teach people that they have got to look deeper than the surface, because the surface is populated mostly by false narratives based on flawed understandings of history, and that the people who perpetuate those myths do NOT have our best interests at heart; in fact, their arguments are actually extremely damaging to our struggle.
This is an excerpt from an actual conversation between myself and an Indian friend. Do not be alarmed, it’s natural for someone to have opinions like this based on flawed history. But most of my people are very intelligent and once set straight, they often understand very well why what they once believed was incorrect. This conversation was with someone who asked me why I am “always talking about the Middle East and Jews.” They were upset that I had said something about Palestinians not wanting peace.
“But Ryan, the Jews are bad people because the bible says they killed Jesus. The priest told me that they are bad people,” said an Indian friend of mine whose family was forced into residential schools.
“Umm seriously? I am going to ask you a question and I need you to answer honestly. This same priest who told you Jews were bad people, isn’t that the same priest who told you that speaking your own language is evil and that having dark skin is a mark of sin? Did you believe that? Are you evil for speaking Cree and being brown?”
“No of course not, why would I be evil for speaking Cree or being dark that’s just who I am, saying that, well that’s just stupid.”
“So why the hell would you believe the priest who tells you the Jews were bad people? That same priest forgets to tell you that Jesus was Jewish himself, he was a rabbi, that same priest tells you that you are bad and evil for being who you are, so why would he be telling the truth about one thing and not the other?”
“I never thought of it like that, but you are right, if he’s lying about us being bad, then he’s probably lying about those Jews too.”
“Exactly. Especially given that his entire religion is based around Jewish principles and the teachings of a Jewish person, doesn’t it seem odd for them to dislike Jewish people so much?”
“So why do you think that Jews are so much like us? They have pale skin so they are white people and all white people have treated us rough.”
“Because whiteness isn’t about skin tone, it’s about privilege. What if I told you that in all of history, only one people was treated as badly as us by white people? That these people were marginalized, oppressed and treated like second and third class citizens even though some of them, physically, look exactly like most white people? Now what if I told you that these people who sometimes look exactly like white people, were never allowed to be safe or comfortable and, in fact, every few decades would be murdered and scattered?”
“Seriously? But they looked like white people!”
“ Yes, but they were always made aware that no matter how white they might look, they were not in fact white people and therefore they were always LESSER and not safe .because no matter how high they got, they could lose it in a second. Does that sound familiar to you at all?”
“Yeah that sounds like Métis people hahahaha.”
“Yup. So now do you understand why my Jewish friends understand us better than white people? Because they aren’t white either, they understand better than anyone how crappy it is to work hard and be marginalized for the blood you carry. But they were given a chance to fight for a state of their own and they took it. We can learn a lot from them.”
“But I thought they stole the land from the Palestinians?”
“Did Indians steal the land from the white man here in Canada?”
“Don’t say such stupid things, everyone knows Indians were here before white people, how could we steal what was already ours?”
“Exactly. And the Jews were in Israel for 3,000 years before the Arabs, so you tell me how the Jews are stealing land that was theirs? The Jews were kicked off their land just like we were , with only a few of them staying on their traditional lands just like us, the people who kicked them off their lands were the Arabs who showed up 700 years after Jesus. That’s important to know because Arabs come from a place called the Arabian Peninsula NOT the Levant. They were outsiders, like the white people here. So if we regained our lands would we be stealing the land from the white people who kicked us off our land or would we simply be regaining our lands? Because the Jews are returning to their traditional lands, how does one steal what one already owns?”
“I thought Arabs were from there forever. But if they came from somewhere else and just took over, then they are just colonists like white people.”
“ Yes exactly and that’s why arguing that Israel is the colonists and the Palestinians are indigenous should bother you, because by making that argument, you are arguing that white people will eventually become indigenous too.”
“Wow I never thought of that, white people can’t become indigenous just by conquering us, so that means other colonizers can’t either. So what if the Palestinians a
re just Jews who converted to avoid being killed. Aren’t they still indigenous?”
“ Ok, let me ask you a question, if you have mixed blood on two sides, but deny one sides culture, language and traditions, but adopt those of the other side, and you self identify as that side, what are you? Really? Are you really a mixed blood person anymore or have you completely self identified as one side. Because to be indigenous you must demonstrate that you have ties to a community, you have indigenous language and culture and religion. if you deny those things and adopt the culture, religion and language of the colonizer, are you really indigenous anymore?”
“I don’t think so, that’s like all those Métis who tell everyone they are white.”
“Exactly, they don’t want to be Indians, so we don’t force them to be. It’s their choice, but they don’t get to say “I’m not an Indian, I’m white, but I’m indigenous”. They are either Indians or they aren’t.” Is that clear?”
“Yeah I have a lot to think about.”
A few weeks later, this friend joined some pro-Israel groups on Facebook and elsewhere and asked several questions. Now he wants to be more involved in some of the work I’m doing involving setting up cultural exchanges for Native and Jewish kids. So you see, sometimes, all you need, is the right argument at the right time, and you can change hearts and minds.
Its Important to remember that even though some Jewish people are pale skinned, they are not in fact white. They were not the people who gave us spoiled rations, stole our land and gave us shiny beads in return. While I hesitate to allow our enemies to define us in any way, we must remember that to the government, all Indians are Indians no matter our blood quantum, and to the enemies of our Jewish brothers and sisters, all Jews are simply Jews. This is a burden we both share but we share it together and it suddenly becomes way less heavy.
Ryan Bellerose is a Métis from Northern Alberta. His father, Mervin Bellerose, co-authored the Métis Settlements Act of 1989, which was passed by the Alberta legislature in 1990. This act cemented Métis land rights. Ryan founded Canadians for Accountability, a native rights advocacy group. He is also an organizer and participant in the Idle No More movement in Calgary, Alberta, and a proclaimed Zionist.
Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)