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Happy Stolen Land Day: The Myths of Canada Day, July 4th, & Israel

As you prepare to celebrate Canada Day July 1st or US Independence Day July 4th, consider this: We live on stolen land. Do you know whose land you live on?
In fact, 250 million people were exterminated to make way for European settlers who then stole 12 million people from Africa, of which 1.5 million people died on the ships.

And yet the legacies of these genocides rarely shape how we see our citizenship.

We learn our citizenship through a million different embodiments and enactments – from racial profiling to mainstream Islamo-racism; from school curricula to national anthems; from the naming of places to media narratives, and much more. Our citizenship educates to forget about the founding and ongoing violence.
This forgetting is done through the constant focus on nationalism, patriotism, and the stories the nation tells itself about itself: That Canadian multi-culturalism means equality; that the US exceptionalism means for those who work hard enough, success will come.
After all, the proof is in how diverse the Canadian cabinet is, or that a Black man is the US president.

Although these success stories are important at symbolic levels, they do not change the reality of the social hierarchy in these societies.  Relating to the nation focused on these myths erases the violent history whose legacies we still live with, and ignores that history is always written by the victorious.

Rather, focusing attention on the land and its people highlights more than the colonizer’s version of history and the people it vanquished.
Because we do not recognize that we live on Indigenous land, we do not see that we are already in a relationship with the possessors of this land.
People whose land was stolen, made strangers in their own land, whose culture was appropriated, whose contributions to these nations constitutes the very ground underneath our feet – and yet we still see these people as vanishing or extinct, their fate inevitable given their “backward culture,” unable to “get over it.”
Isn’t this all sounding a little déjà vu? Like, say, Palestine?
For me, to be a Muslim is common to know something of what I call a Pedagogy of Palestine. Extending our knowledge of how Palestine and its people have been oppressed, and also understanding how Turtle Island and its people have been oppressed is imperative.
Allow me to expand this thought –  it is recognizing that Palestine may be erased from world maps, but it is still fiercely real and resisting and beautiful and messy; just as there are sovereign Indigenous nations within Canada and the US that are real and resisting and beautiful and messy, despite what the maps claim.
It is to know that just as the continued colonization of Palestine is an ongoing violence against its people decades later, the continued colonization of Turtle Island is also an ongoing violence against its people, even 500 years later.

It is to recognize that just as the ludicrous national stories we hear endlessly about Israel are no more than myths, the national stories we learn about Canada and the US are largely mythical. 

It is to understand that just as telling the Palestinians to “get over” Israel’s occupation of the land is impossible because Israelis are still living on it (and what little Palestinians have left is still being stolen from them); likewise, telling the plethora of nations and tribes of Indigenous people across this continent to “just get over it” is similarly impossible while we still live with the past and ongoing oppression of Indigenous people (Grassy Narrows, Tar Sands and Keystone Pipeline XL) that continue to cut short their lives, and appropriate their resources for a state that views them as violable.
It is to recognize that just as assimilation has not worked for Israeli Arabs, it will never work for forced assimilation of Indigenous people.

Most importantly, it is to accept that we are complicit in all of this, whether we recognize it or not, because we, too, live on stolen land.

Often, reactions to saying this out loud range from denial, to distancing oneself from the violence of the state, to outright anger.  Perhaps some of the denial stems from a practical imperative – its too complicated to solve so let’s just pretend it isn’t relevant any more.
Ramadan is a great time to rethink our ethical commitments beyond “self-centered spirituality” to solidarities that are based on fighting injustice; especially when we realize that the same logic that right wing politicians and their ilk promote against Muslims is the same logic that we fall into believing about other racial groups.
To understand this connection forces us to think about our citizenship and living on this land differently.  For example, what do you think ethical Israeli settlers should be doing? That’s right, advocating for Palestinian rights.  Jewish Voices for Peace and Independent Jewish Voices Canada are good inspirations for what our advocacy for Indigenous rights should look like – extending the fervor we have for Palestinian rights to Indigenous rights.

Furthermore, to challenge the grounds on which our citizenship is constructed is a more robust belonging to this land than to constantly defend and plead that we really do belong, that we really are good people.

When I shared this with my dear dad, he remarked that he didn’t want me to have a bitter life.
Dear dad, it is not a bitter life.

It is a life that refuses these national myths in their pervasive forms, which sometimes makes me a killjoy.

But is much more than that too.
It is a love for this land through its physicality and spirituality, not through aspirational Whiteness.
It is cautiously trying to support the struggles of the people of this land.

It is thinking about the racism embedded in the very concepts that we use to think about the world –  what it means to be educated, to be modern, and especially, to be human.

There is no laundry list of steps to do to ‘fix’ our problematic belonging on stolen land. It does however, begin with a shift in consciousness.
Before you celebrate Canada Day or Independence Day, can you answer the question- whose land am I living on?
(**This article draws on the work of scholars Ghassan Hage, Radhika Mohanram, Waziytawin, and Sylvia Wynters.)
Submitted by Lucy El-Sherif, who is a PhD student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, where she researches how Muslims in North America learn their citizenship and belonging. She is interested in the ways Islamo-racism, settler colonialism and other racial- and colonizing-  linked logics such as anti-Blackness strengthen each other and how a pedagogy of Palestine can be mobilized to develop stronger critical citizenship.  She can be found on Twitter @LucyCairoGirl