Colonialism panel discussion

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by Amy Rose Gofton

On Thursday, October 2nd at 7 pm, around 150 people gathered in RCH 301 for the panel discussion, “They Came in Ships: Settler Colonialism from Turtle Island to Palestine”. The event, hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Action Group (PSAG), Grand River Indigenous Solidarity (GRIS) and the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), focused on settler colonialism in both North America and Israel/Palestine. The panel was well received by students, who applauded and listened intently throughout the presentation.

The event began with a brief reminder that students were at UW, on occupied Six Nations Land. Then, each member of the panel was asked to give a brief presentation. The three person panel featured Gabriel Piterberg, a professor of history at the University of California, Dalee Sambo Dorough, an associate professor at the University of Alaska and chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, and Sara Matthews, an associate Professor of Global Studies at Wilfred Laurier and a member of QAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), a group dedicated to encouraging the queer community to become politically involved.
Dalee Sambro Dorough spoke first, focusing on the role law plays in colonialism. “Indigenous peoples have been largely subjugated and dominated through the use of law,” she explained. Although “indigenous peoples across the globe have all the attributes of . . . nation state[s],” including language, culture, forms of government, social control, protocol and rules of membership, foreign law is still used to legitimize control over indigenous peoples. Despite attempts to “pry open the doors” of international law, it has been difficult. She cited the 2007 UN document,

“The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People,” as a victory, but lamented Canada’s failure to step whole-heartedly behind the document, which lays out a number of basic rights for indigenous peoples. Gabriel Piterberg spoke after Dorough, switching the focus towards Israel/Palestine. He described the Palestinians not as simply an oppressed population, but as an indigenous group subjected to settler colonialism. Piterberg differentiated between settler and metropole colonialism. Metropole colonialism, he said, is more like “Ulysses” — the colonizers arrive and then leave — while settler colonialism is more like the Aeneid, where the colonizers arrive and intend never to leave. Israel has created a “pure settlement colony,” Piterberg said; they want the land, but they do not want the indigenous labour. However, he expressed optimism, noting that unlike the majority of disposed indigenous peoples, the Palestinians maintain a significant and internationally legitimate claim to sovereignty. Sara Matthews bridged the gap between Piterberg and Dorough, by speaking about her own efforts with QAIA. Matthews described the opposition QAIA faces from Toronto politicians who believe that politics have no place in the Toronto Pride Parade. She chalked this opposition up to neoliberalism. Matthews also used the term “Pinkwashing,” a phrase she and QAIA use to describe Israel’s attempts to market itself as a liberal and tolerant state, hospitable to the LGBTQ community. Just as Greenwashing distracts from environmental harms, Pinkwashing is a tactic used to distract the international community from addressing the occupation.

After a spokesperson for the event posed a couple of questions to the panel, an audience Q&A session began. Many of the questions from students were directed towards Gabriel Piterberg and involved Israel/Palestine. In response to one question, Piterberg suggested that “the solution” in Israel/Palestine “is to take everyone that is already there and create something,” rather than to try and dismantle the colonial settlement.

The event concluded around 9:30 pm. A social gathering was held at the Graduate House afterwards for those who wished to talk directly with the panel members or discuss the event.

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