By Gale Courey Toensing
Robert Warrior, an Osage Nation citizen and Director of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is professor of American Indian Studies, English, and History, signed an April 3 letter to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly on behalf of a group of American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and other indigenous scholars, taking Shelly to task for his recent trip to Israel.
“As indigenous educators, we find your support for the state of Israel to be in complete contradiction to our values and sense of justice. Israel has illegally occupied Palestine for decades,” the group wrote. “Your public and political engagement with [Israeli] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials sends a message that you endorse the continued occupation of the West Bank, including construction of new Jewish settlements there, as well as the ongoing settler colonial situation for Palestinians residing within the 1948 boundaries asserted by the Israeli state, and exclusion of Palestinian refugees from reclaiming their homes and homeland after being violently expelled during the nakba (catastrophe) when Israel was founded.”
Shelley met with Netanyahu and other officials at the Knesset [parliament] including the Deputy Minister of Development. “I want to work with your people. I know that Israel is self-sufficient, what we need is your expertise, what can we share,” Shelly said in a Navajo Nation press release December 12, 2012. “What I read of you—you were no different than we are. How did you survive while moving forward in technology, greenhouses—I am interested in that and becoming partners.”
On February 1, 2013, Shelly met with Israeli diplomats and members of the Arizona Israel Business Council in Arizona to follow up on his December visit to Israel and in March Israeli farmers visited Navajo Nation to speak to Navajo farmers at a two-day conference.
The scholars refuted Shelly’s statement that the Israelis “were no different than we are,” asserting instead that the Indigenous Peoples’ experience parallels what has happened to the occupied Palestinians. The Diné people, like the other Indigenous Peoples represented by the scholars have suffered through the process of settlement, colonization, or militarization of their homelands, the group wrote. “Thanks to the wisdom of our ancestors, we have persisted. But our prospects as peoples will never be as full or complete as they might have been had those who colonized us been just and honest in their dealings with us. A similar process has unfolded for Palestinian people over the past half-century. Indeed, Israel demolition of the homes of Palestinian families is not all that different than the Long Walk your people endured in 1864. Your collusion with the Israeli government is a betrayal of that shared history and of the wisdom that has helped all Indigenous Peoples survive for centuries,” the scholars wrote.