Saturday, July 4, 2009

An Open Letter by an Indigenous Person

To the Executive of the Canadian Arab Federation:

I am writing to express my disappointment with your decision to distance CAF from the statements regarding 'Canada Day' made by Omar Shaban, your (former) Vice-President for the west. I am an indigenous activist based in Vancouver. I am also actively involved in the Boycott Israeli Apartheid Campaign, as the struggle for Palestine is of immense importance to me.

Last year I personally contacted CAF to get an endorsement for the ‘Walk for Palestine’ event in Vancouver, where we commemorated the 60th anniversary of Al-Nakba, the ‘catastrophe’ for Palestinians that was marked by the birth of Israel in 1948 and the displacement of over 750,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes. I was happy that CAF readily endorsed this event, as I’m sure it has done for numerous events and initiatives for Palestine over the years.

On the other hand, this past week marked ‘Canada Day,’ which, for me and many indigenous people living in Canada, should be seen as a day to commemorate our own ‘catastrophe’ - that is, the forced theft and occupation of our territories, the break-up of our societies and traditional forms of governance, and a systematic policy of genocide that continues to this day. This history, this ‘heritage,’ forms the true foundations of Canadian society, and for indigenous people who have struggled for generations with living under Canadian colonialism, July 1st is not a day to celebrate.

This is the main reason I am disappointed with the July 1st press release posted on your website, as it seems there is a large contradiction where you identify with the struggle of the occupied in the context of Palestine, but in the context of ‘Canada’ are identifying with the heritage of the occupier. As someone who feels and understands the connection between our struggles as indigenous people here and that of the Palestinian people, it is disheartening to see an organization like CAF act in such a way as to deny this connection.

Another reason I am disappointed by your decision to distance yourselves from Omar Shaban’s statements concerning Canada is that, as I’m sure you are aware, a number of indigenous organizations and individuals have been targeted by the Canadian government in recent years through the scope of the ‘war on terror,’ as have organizations and individuals within Arab and other communities with roots in the so-called 'muslim world', including the very open attacks that the Canadian Arab Federation has been recently enduring.

Two years ago, when the Canadian Department of National Defense released the initial draft of its new 'counter-terrorism' field manual, it explicitly listed ‘indigenous warrior societies’ as a group that the Canadian armed forces will be expected to deal with as ‘terrorists.’ This treatment of people active in our communities has been at work since the beginning of the 'war on terror', including the more prominent example of the harassment the now-disbanded West Coast warriors faced from the RCMP’s INSET squad (see for more information on this).

I bring this up because I think it would benefit both of our communities to stand united against the racist attacks that we are up against at the hands of the Canadian government. I am personally appalled at the hateful campaign being waged against CAF and the cutting of funds for your ESL program, and I am not the only indigenous person that CAF should see as a potential ally whenever you are facing such a hateful campaign as this. However, the decision to distance CAF from Omar Shaban’s comments and ignore what ‘Canada Day’ really means to indigenous people in Canada can only serve to fuel division, which in the end will make both of our communities weaker at a time when we truly need strength.

It appears that CAF is already familiar with some of the major issues facing indigenous people in Canada. According to a joint statement from your website that CAF signed its name to in April 2009 addressed to the Durban Review Conference Preparatory Committee, “Aboriginal peoples continue to struggle against extreme poverty, social exclusion and violation of their human, environmental and land rights.” In the spirit of attaining a deeper understanding of why, as indigenous people, we are forced to endure these conditions as a result of Canadian colonialism, I urge you to reconsider your stance towards Omar Shaban’s comments and what the ‘Canadian Heritage’ truly stands for. Colonialism and racism are never something to celebrate.

In Solidarity and Ni-Kso-Ko-Wa (all my relations),

Mike Krebs

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I will celebrate “Canada Day” when the natives do

I will celebrate “Canada Day” when the natives do

By Omar Shaban

This statement is in response to all the speculations and assumptions made about me in the media regarding a position that I took in a personal message on facebook. My facebook status did read “F*** Canada Day”, and it was followed by a few other comments in response to some of the questions that people posted. Some consider that taking this position is disgraceful and shameful but I tend to disagree.

First of all, my statement clearly did not reflect CAF’s position; it was my own personal opinion.

Secondly, I said “F*** Canada Day” and I regret the dark history that this country has. On our silent government's behalf, I apologize to the indigenous people for this, and sincerely wish it had not happened to you. I apologize to the indigenous people of Canada because their feelings are not taken into consideration at “Canada Day” celebrations. I apologize to them because they had to be slaughtered, killed, massacred, diseased and dispossessed to establish Canada. And I apologize to the indigenous people because they continue to live in reserves under miserable and dire conditions that no so-called “Canadian” would accept to live under.

I also apologize for being a citizen of a country that followed George Bush’s orders and went to Afghanistan. I apologize for being a citizen of a country that imposed sanctions on the Palestinian people because they followed Canada’s own advice and elected a new government democratically. I apologize because it was Canada’s own Lester Pearson that masterminded the notorious Partition Plan of Palestine, and it was Canada’s own Paul Martin who compared Canada’s values with Israel’s values, and it was Canada’s own Michael Ignatieff who legitimized Israel’s onslaught on Gaza in Dec 08/Jan 09.

I did not resign from CAF because “it was felt that [I] had to correct that” and that “[I] decided that the best thing for [me] to do was to resign" (; I resigned from CAF because I do not want to be part of an organization that openly refuses to acknowledge Canada's colonial and shameful history.

We are only lying to ourselves if we deny the dark past that Canada was founded on. Canada Day is seen as tragic by its true indigenous population. When Canada Day is celebrated for true freedom and not mourned by the indigenous population of Canada for its colonial and dark past, I will gladly show them my support. When the country I was born in, shames me with its colonial mindset, I refuse to celebrate it, and will not apologize for refusing to do so.

I WILL celebrate Canada Day, only when it is accepted as legitimate by the indigenous people.

Omar Shaban