As light from the morning sun began to fill the city of Portland, a group of over 100 community members gathered together on the steps of the Lovejoy Fountain Park in downtown Portland. Traditional Palestinian Keffiyehs, now a symbol for Palestinian freedom, shielded the faces of some attendees and kept them warm in the dreary weather.
The smell of sage wafted through the air, leading community members to the Indigenous-led sunrise ceremony in solidarity with Palestine, as Lummi Nation citizen, Nic Niggemeyer, shared a hand drum song with the crowd.
As the clock ticked closer to 9:30 a.m., attendees lined up inside a City of Portland Building for the Jan. 24 Portland City Council meeting. Dozens streamed into the meeting room. Four people who signed up ahead of time delivered remarks to city commissioners and asked them to pass a resolution calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Mayor Ted Wheeler was not in attendance, as he had a “conflict for the early part of the meeting,” according to Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who presided over the meeting.
Each speaker stood in front of the council members and used their three minutes to speak about the injustices they believe are happening in Palestine and the complacency of the U.S. government and the city of Portland in the genocide of Palestinians. Members in the crowd stood up holding signs reading, “No ceasefire, no votes,” and, “Free Palestine.”
“I am here to emphasize that this global issue has deep, local repercussions and requires you to take action,” said Alexandria Saleem, a Palestinian American woman who spoke to the council. She shared that 19 members of her family have been killed in Palestine by Israeli airstrikes. “I am testifying today to urge you to support an immediate and permanent ceasefire and the entry of urgent humanitarian aid into Gaza.”
After the first four speakers, Portland commissioners moved on with little acknowledgement of the demands for a ceasefire. Attendees quickly erupted into chants of, “What about Palestine?,” “Acknowledge us,” “Blood on your hands,” and, “How many more children?” Dozens more spilled out of the room, down the hall and in the main entrance of the building holding signs and demanding a ceasefire.
The protest caused the commissioners to take a recess. None responded to the demands of their constituents.
‘Their struggle is our struggle’
Protests like these have been consistent across the globe following the Israeli besiege and bombardment of the Gaza strip after a Palestinian resistance group called Hamas attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. From organizing marches, to using social media to spread information, to paddling in traditional Nisqually canoes to block docked military ships, Indigenous organizers from across Turtle Island have been actively speaking up and speaking out against what they all agree is a genocide currently taking place in Gaza.
“I want to be loud,” said Colleta Macy, a Warm Springs artist and activist. “I want to be radical. I want to shut it down.”
During the first week of December, Macy, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, says she organized the first march in Warm Springs history to show support and solidarity for another country. Around 40 community members joined in as they marched to the Deschutes River to sing songs and offer prayers for Palestine.
One week later, she organized another protest in the neighboring town of Madras. On the last day of 2023, she joined hundreds of protesters while wearing her jingle dress, dancing and offering prayers for Palestine while they shut down the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland. Last week, Macy and her daughter were invited to attend the “March in DC for Palestine,” where thousands gathered at the country's capital to demand an end to the Israeli military action in Gaza.
On Jan. 24, Macy and members of her family joined the sunrise ceremony, offering a hand drum song, before the crowd marched to attend the Portland City Council meeting, calling for a ceasefire. Macy says as an Indigenous woman she has a responsibility to stand in solidarity with her Palestinian relatives.
Indigenous nations of Turtle Island have been dealing with colonization for over five centuries, and because of this Macy says all Indigenous people need to be standing in solidarity and demanding an end to the genocide that is being publicized for the world to see.
“Seeing that same resilience, that same strength as our people – it's powerful,” Macy said, in reference to the resistance of Palestinian people. “It reminds me of our warriors, back centuries ago, who would dance in prayer before they would go out and face the cavalry.”
Over a century of Palestinian resistance
Most people think the conflict started on Oct. 7, but in reality the Palestinian story is more than 100 years old. The fight for Palestinian sovereignty came to a head with the passage of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the United Kingdom expressed sympathy with the Zionist movement and support of Palestine becoming a “national home for the Jewish people.”
What follows has been over a hundred years of occupation, oppression and struggle for Palestinian sovereignty. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced and now live as refugees all over the world because of the violence of the occupation.
On May 15 every year, Palestinians around the world remember “Al Nakba,” which translates to “the catastrophe.” This is a reference to the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people from 531 villages encompassing 78 percent of Palestine for settler occupation. This catastrophe is especially marked with memory of the many massacres by Zionist militias and attempted destruction of Palestinian society in 1948 when the State of Israel came into being.
Today, one of the few areas Palestinians have been relocated to is the Gaza strip, a portion of land roughly the size of the city of Las Vegas that is fenced in to control the movement of people and goods coming in and out of Gaza. Two-thirds of Palestinians before Oct. 7 were living in poverty.
Infrastructure continues to be destroyed by Israeli bombs and over 85 percent of a population of 2.3 million have been displaced. Of the 12 hospitals in Southern Gaza, only seven remain partially functional. Nearly 350 schools and every university in the Gaza strip have been damaged or destroyed and telecommunications blackouts are common as civilians do not have access to stable electricity and internet because of the bombing.
“In reality, the Palestinian question…started in 1897, by the establishment of the Zionist movement,” said Michel Shehadeh, Palestinian writer and activist.
The goal of the Zionist movement claimed to be to secure a Jewish national home after the First World War — which they claim is Jersulem. However, in establishing Israel, the movement has displaced millions of Indigenous Palestinian people, who have lived in that region for millennia. Zionism has since come under scrutiny as a political ideology and settler colonial movement that has established an apartheid state.
Shehadeh has been speaking out about what’s been happening in Palestine since he immigrated to the U.S. for college in the 80s. In 1987, the Reagan administration attempted to deport Shehadeh and seven others for allegedly raising funds for the Popular Liberation Front for Palestine (PFLP), a group within the Palestinian Liberation Organization that fought for the liberation of Palestinian people and “advocated for the doctrines of world communism.”
The Reagan administration attempted to use the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 out of fear of a “communist infiltration” to deport Shehadeh. After a 20-year-long legal battle that would bring their case to every level of federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal appeals court decision declared the act unconstitutional in 2007 and they were allowed to stay in the U.S. The group became known as the L.A. Eight.
Three years after the 2007 decision, Shehadeh and the other seven were allowed to apply for citizenship. Shehadeh went on to get married and started a family, raising two sons, in central Oregon. Today, he is retired but continues to speak out about the ongoing genocide in his homelands.
“Eighty percent of Gaza is destroyed,” said Shehadeh. “No schools, no hospitals, no infrastructure, no electricity, no water.”
Nearly 200 Palestinians are killed each day, according to Reuters. The death toll from Israeli air strikes has risen to 25,900. At least 11,500 of them were children and 7,300 were women. Thousands more are still unaccounted for, suspected to be under the rubble. Because of the Israeli blockade of humanitarian aid into Gaza, more than half a million people are also facing catastrophic hunger conditions in Gaza. According to the United Nations, no one is safe from starvation. The Israeli civilian death toll since Oct. 7 remains at 1,139.
“Basically, what they're trying to do is ethnically cleanse Gaza,” Shehadeh said.
‘We fight for whoever's land that we are currently on’
Shehadeh also pointed to the long history of allyship between the Indigenous people of Turtle Island and Palestinian people. For him, this is rooted in both living through and resisting genocide and colonization.
“What they’re trying to do is exactly what happened to the Native Americans,” Shehadeh said. “They took the land and want to put the Palestinians in reservations and, with time, ethnically cleanse the Palestinians.”
Shehadeh remembers watching Western movies growing up. In those movies, Indigenous people were vilified, creating an image of the “evil,” “savage” Native American person, free of any sense of humanity, as if to try and justify genocide. He says this intentional imagery is similar to the picture painted of Palestinians, particularly by mainstream media today equating all Palestinians with terrorism.
“They are vilifying the Palestinian people and dehumanizing them, so it becomes easier for the American public and the West in general to accept killing [our] people,” Shehadeh said.
For both him and Krystal Two Bulls, executive director of Honor the Earth, this genocide is hauntingly similar to the one that colonial settlers brought upon Indigenous people across Turtle Island starting in 1492.
The same U.S. government that killed millions of Indigenous people to create what is now the United States for European settlers to occupy is providing money, weapons and diplomatic support to Israel to do the same to Palestinians. Shehadeh says that the U.S. government is enabling Israel in the genocide of Palestinian people.
Because of the similar history, Shehadeh and Two Bulls, Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne, encourage Indigenous and Palestinian people to stand together in solidarity.
Indigenous Nations and organizations issue calls for a ceasefire
That solidarity can be seen all across Native country, in national Indigenous organizations and Native Nations. Showing solidarity has meant an urgency to release public calls for support of Palestinians and a ceasefire in Gaza. For many, this also means calling out the United States government for the role it plays in what they believe is a genocide.
Among the first national activist organizations to issue a public statement following the bombing of Gaza, was NDN Collective who issued a call for a ceasefire and end of military aid to Israel on Oct. 19, 2023.
“Settler colonialism is at the root of the violence in Gaza,” the statement said.
“A ceasefire, an end to the U.S. funding Israel’s military, and true Palestinian land rights and liberation are the path to peace.”
NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to decolonization, made four specific demands. First, a call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Second, to allow lifesaving food, fuel and water into Gaza to support Palestinian people. Third, the deployment of refugee and recovery support. And finally, an end to U.S. aid to Israel in the form of money for weapons and military efforts. Over 100 days later, none of those demands have been met and NDN Collective continues to advocate for Palestinian people.
Across Turtle Island, few Native Nations have also issued public statements calling for a ceasefire. On Nov. 9, Yurok Tribal Council issued one such statement.
“We have endured mass violence, displacement and attempted genocide,” the statement said. “The trauma caused by these devastating events continues to reverberate through our community. For these reasons, we are calling for a swift and equitable end to the conflict.”
A few days later, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe in California issued a similar statement. The statement, released on Nov. 12, positions the nation as standing against the Israeli occupation and invasion of Palestine. The statement points to similar genocidal tactics used by the U.S. government against the Winnemem Wintu Tribe.
Last month, the Oceti Sakowin Treaty Council passed a resolution. The treaty council represents all 49 tribes within the Oceti Sakowin, according to a press release about the resolution.
“In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act as a means of claiming and expanding U.S. territory by violently removing Native Peoples from our homelands to territories not our own,” the resolution says. “This act was designed to cut relationships Native Peoples had with the land by removing us, keeping us in prisoner of war camps, destroying our homes, our medicines, our crops, our livestock, and killing any who resisted. On the other side of the world, our Palestinian Relatives in Gaza are resisting similar violence and conditions, albeit under a different timeline of settler colonization…the Oceti Sakowin Treaty Council stands in full solidarity with our Palestinian relatives and full liberation of their homeland.”
In the Southwest, President Buu Nygren of the Navajo Nation promised to issue a call for a ceasefire in Gaza in coming weeks, according to an article in the Navajo Times in December. No such call has been released to the public since.
Two Bulls said she hopes other Native Nations call for a ceasefire and for the U.S. government to withdraw military aid from Israel.
“[The U.S. government] always tells us that there's no funding, and yet we can write checks to Israel to kill other people and do exactly what they did to us,” said Two Bulls. “So it's actually really foolish of us to think that this doesn't impact us and that it's not our fight.”
Calling on Portland City Council
As Indigenous people call for Native Nations to issue a ceasefire, there is a movement by community members in Portland demanding the Portland city council do the same. Attendees at the Jan. 24 City Council meeting called for Portland to join over 40 other cities across the United States who have passed resolutions in support of a ceasefire.
Though city council members didn’t respond to the demands of attendees during that meeting, organizers were not deterred. The crowd marched back to the steps of Lovejoy Fountain Park, taking to the streets despite the heavy downpour of rain, as speakers continued to talk about the importance of this fight and standing in solidarity with Palestine.
“We call Palestine the tip of the spear because once they are liberated, all Indigenous people will be liberated,” Macy said to the crowd gathered at Lovejoy Fountain Park. “All oppressed people will be liberated. We are all Palestine. We are all Gaza.”
Lead image: Colleta Macy, citizen of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, was joined by three other family members as they sang a hand drum song before the Portland city council meeting took place on Jan. 24. (Photo by Jarrette Werk Underscore News/Report for America)