Steven Salaita is a professor, who has somehow convinced American academia that a degree in English makes him qualified to speak on behalf of Native Americans. He is part of a small group of appropriators that includes a woman who refuses to share her Blood quantum as a supposed Kanaka maoli or native Hawaiin named J. Kēhaulani Kauanui.
Rounding out this triumvirate of asshats is Robert Warrior, an Osage who has written some extremely dry and boring (as well as factually incorrect) invalid comparisons of “palestine” with pre-Columbian America as well as comparing Israel with the United States. He makes these ridiculous comparisons directly in the face of the facts. He has no degree that would make him even remotely knowledgeable about the conflict in the Middle East, and his ridiculous assertions only serve to make this even more apparent.
These people are behind the ASA and NAISA boycotts of Israeli academics, despite huge numbers of actual Native Americans who do not agree. ASA and NAISA both claim to speak on behalf of Native American people. Lets begin with Steven’s most recent “article” on Salon.
I rarely get this irritated, but this article was pretty much exactly what I was talking about when I speak about people appropriating the struggles and misery of Native Americans in order to show their own cause in a more credible light.
This article pretends to be about Native Americans and mentions us just enough so that dense people will make the connection, but not only is it clearly just a poorly written screed designed to demonise Israel, its not even truthful. I have written extensively on the indigenous status of Jewish people and the Palestinians’ lack thereof,
So I wasted some time on the internet reading Steven’s article in Salon. It was misleading from the title to the end.
As a Native North American I am not asking Salaita to stop invoking my people’s struggles as a prop to stump for “Palestinian rights.” I am telling him it’s unacceptable. I do not take his claims of solidarity seriously. How could I? I have yet to see him write anything about our struggle that didn’t contain several references and invalid comparisons to the situation in Israel/Palestine. He doesn’t even try to hide his agenda. He is either being open in trying to co-opt our struggle and appropriate our oppression and marginalisation, or he is just really unsubtle and not good at hiding it. I am not certain which is true.
Now if he were just some random Arab writer, this wouldn’t be nearly as problematic, but this person has positioned himself as a so-called expert. He has joined several boards and groups such as NAISA, and ASA, both of which claim to represent Native Americans and neither of which really does. This charlatan even has a job teaching Native studies at an American university. How he managed that trick I have no idea but it gives undeserved credibility to his fallacious and facetious arguments.
Let’s examine a few of Steven’s positions and the hypocrisy inherent in them.
Steven leads off his article, “We must give the land back” with this gem of a quote:
“I write often about liberating Palestine from Israeli occupation, a habit that evokes passionate response. I have yet to encounter a response that persuades me to abandon the commitment to Palestinian liberation.”
Steven is supposedly university educated, so I have to assume that he knows that the Palestinians are not native to the land they conquered in the 7th century so calling it an occupation of Palestine is actually the opposite of supporting Native rights. In fact by calling for the return of indigenous peoples’ lands to the occupier, he is basically saying that he supports the rights of the conqueror over the rights of the indigenous people.
He then goes on to try and make invalid comparisons based on someone else’s invalid comparison, ie, using a Benny Morris quote to justify his own invalid comparison. The reason comparing Israel to the United States fails so spectacularly (aside from the fact that Israel has treated the Palestinians in a far more decent and humane manner than America has treated my people) is rather simple: America is a colonialist settler country that was created through violent occupation by an external people who conquered the indigenous people and conducted a genocide. Israel is the return of a displaced indigenous people to their ancestral lands that may have been assisted by colonial entities such as the UN and Great Britain, but at its core is still an indigenous project. The standard leftist narrative likes to ignore this unpleasant truth but history is on my side in that argument.
Now the reason that this is important is self-evident: if the Palestinians are descended from Arabs who conquered the Levant in the seventh century during a violent occupation how then can people like Salaita make a comparison to Native Americans? How does one ignore the facts and history in order to make self-serving invalid comparisons? In point of fact the Arab conquerors have far more in common with the Europeans who conquered the Americas than Israel does.
When the Arabs conquered the Middle East they violently subsumed the indigenous peoples of several regions, those people had their populations violently reduced, were forcibly converted, forced to speak the language of the occupier/coloniser and were not allowed to maintain coherent nations. They were assimilated and “Arabised”.
Sound familiar? Well to an Indian it does, because when the Europeans showed up here, we were killed in the millions, we were forcibly converted, forced to speak the language of the occupier/coloniser and not allowed to maintain coherent nations. We were and are being forced to assimilate and become more “Americanised.” I am curious as to how that equates to the Palestinian experience? Have the Palestinians had their population violently reduced? No. In fact it has multiplied by over 5 million since 1947. Have the Palestinians been forcibly converted? No, and in fact I don’t think there are even any Jews in the PA or Gaza let alone a majority of forcibly converted ones. What language do Palestinians speak? I am pretty sure its Arabic not Hebrew and they have been allowed to gather in groups which means that it will be far easier to create a nation if they can ever get their act together and find some decent leadership. I would submit that the Palestinians have been treated far better than any other displaced people in the world, most likely because the Jews being a displaced indigenous people have been far more understanding and decent towards them than a settler colonial state would have been. And in this, the statistics do not lie, despite people like Steven attempting to ignore them.
I often wish that my people had been given three opportunities to create our own nation by the colonialists. It would be a far different world if our experiences were actually similiar to the Palestinians on more than just a surface level. I wish we could have gone through the same level oppression and genocide that the Palestinians have undergone. Although its not a contest, for one thing, there would be several millions more of us now, because unlike the Palestinian version of genocide, the genocide we went through, resulted in a reduction of our population. Also unlike the Palestinians we don’t get billions from other nations and we aren’t considered refugees. If Steven really wants to make some comparisons, where the hell is OUR UNWRA? When was the last time you saw a Native American suicide bomber? Do we hand out candy when Americans die? Have Indians hijacked airplanes? Maybe I missed those things? Steven invokes our issues, but does he even really understand them? We have higher rates of substance abuse, incarceration, murder, suicide and other hallmarks of displaced peoples, but unlike the Palestinians, our situation isn’t front page news even though our situation has been far more dire than the Palestinians’ for centuries. This is only one reason why his constant comparisons to our peoples situations is so abjectly offensive. Would you tell a rape victim that her experience is the same as someone who was slapped on the butt? I genuinely hope not.
I noticed that Salaita uses a pretty effective albeit immoral method to try to get Native people onside with his arguments. He includes some of the very real abuses and the oppression that we as Native Americans live under in order to build his argument and comparison. By doing so he is counting on the fact that many of us are busy trying to survive and do not have time to study things like the Middle East. But where he is failing, is he doesn’t understand that even 15 years ago, this would have worked, but in today’s world, lots of us have the internet, and this Indian in particular knows how to use Google. This is the age of information. The average person has the same access to information that used to only be available to the academic elite, so treating us like we are ignorant is actually funny as well as offensive.
After a few paragraphs where he panders to us by telling us things about us that we know BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING IT, he returns to making some more invalid comparisons and unsupportable statements, throwing in the experience of Native Hawaiians, who have a few surface commonalities with us, but whose struggle is actually quite different from ours. I think that was more to plug his friend’s book than to make any cogent point in regards to his own article. We see this from this particular group all the time. Perhaps they think if they quote each other enough, other people might quote them too? I am actually surprised he didn’t quote Robert Warrior as well, given he just had a paper presented about the commonalities between the United States and Israel, a paper that depends on the lack of any historical knowledge on the part of the reader.
By the way, I have taken J Kaunanui to task before for doing the same thing that Salaita does, trying to co-opt the Native American situation to attack Israel and making invalid comparisons. These people are shameless and often sound like they are all reading the same handbooks. It’s the exact same rhetoric based on a faulty narrative that is espoused by this group.
Kaunanui refuses to answer basic questions about her blood quantum, which would affect her credibility, but then, even their only Indian Robert Warrior comes from a privileged background that is nothing like the average native North American experience. Yet they position him as some sort of Indian guru (pardon the pun) who speaks on behalf of every Indian. which would be like saying Bill Gates speaks on behalf of all white people with his experiences.
The bottom line here is clear. We are not ignorant people anymore and we do not accept others speaking on behalf of our people. We can speak for our own people. For a lot of years Native Americans had little access to information and so we were easily misled, but in the modern day, we have learned not to take people who use fancy words at their word. We read, we learn and we form our own opinions. That’s why more and more Native people understand that just because you tell us that you are just like us, it doesn’t make it true. So stop using us as a prop in your fight against Israel, stop making invalid comparisons, we are not your toy, we are not your mascot, and we are not your tools in a war against another indigenous people. Steven Salaita, you are not an Indian, and you should not presume to speak for us. You supposedly have studied us well enough to teach people about us. You should know how we feel about appropriators.
One last question going back to the title of his article I will precede with a statement “ There is no statute of limitations on indigenous status or theft from indigenous people, so knowing that, are you sure you want to be talking about giving the land back now that it destroys your own claims to the land you call Palestine?”
I have dealt with these asshats before, calling this group out in a native media source here. To which Robert Warrior wrote this reply which didn’t actually address my arguments and was actually rather pathetic.
I rebutted that idiocy on my personal blog.
Fighting appropriators, fakes and plastic shamans is something I do because it needs to be done. The fact that these people are antisemites as well, is just icing on the cake.