Turtle Island and Palestine are Indigenous territories that settler colonial states have named Canada and Israel. In both of these contexts, Land and Water are at the core of settler colonialism’s destruction of Indigenous peoples’ ways of life. For both Indigenous peoples, Land and Water is sacred; to the settler-colonial state, Land and Water are to be exploited. And the violation of Land and Water is deeply connected to the violation of our women. Here is why:
The settler colonial state creates itself at the expense of Indigenous peoples of the territory through massacres and ethnic cleansing. For Palestinians, these processes are known as Al Nakba, and are similar to what occurred during the Clearing of the Plains in Canada. But the settler colonial state continues its theft, uprooting, expropriation, exploitation and annexation of Palestinian Land to this day; Palestinians have designated March 30th as Land Day in response to these perpetual land grabs. Palestinians are also denied adequate access to water and overall water sovereignty; water resources are stolen from Palestinians to feed settlers’ over-consumption liftestyles. Settlement and settler use of Palestinian water includes – but is not limited to – fresh water swimming pools and excessive use per capita, while Palestinians struggle to access clean and running water.
The Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island are familiar with these circumstances. Like the Palestinians, the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island are battling over many unceded and stolen lands, through grassroots avenues, as well as in the courts. In part, they are demanding that treaties and agreements between the Crown and the respective Indigenous peoples be honoured. Furthermore, while Canada, as a settler colonial state, has the audacity to engage in international water development projects in various parts of the world, its Indigenous peoples and their communities live on boil water advisories, and the majority of Indigenous communities are denied access to clean water.
These settler colonial states’ actions in relation to Land and Water have had dire consequences for our women. The United Nations Committee on the Status of Women passed a resolution in March 2015 based on findings regarding Palestinian women. In it, they stated that the State of Israel’s settler colonization and occupation of Palestinians Land remains the “major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration, in the development of their society,” and that the international community had a role to play to “alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis being faced by Palestinian women and their families.”
The Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island are dealing with a steady increase in missing and murdered women, an issue that has alarmed the international community. Following Amnesty International’s awareness campaign and pressure from grassroots activists, a national inquiry has finally begun to take place. One might ask: what does Land and Water have to do with these realities faced by our Indigenous women?
Land and Water has everything to do with it, if we listen to Indigenous teachings. Indigenous peoples believe that the Land is our mother – which is why it is referred to as Mother Earth. The Land is a caregiver, as it provides sustenance. Long-term sustenance is only possible if Mother Earth is respected – and respect is one of the Seven Sacred Teachings. Indigenous peoples believe that women are the caretakers of water, or that water holds a woman’s spirit, because just like Mother Earth, water is a provider and giver of life, like the fetus that a woman holds for nine months in her womb before her “water breaks.”
Settler colonialism has no respect for Land and Water. Settler colonialism violates Land and Water because the logics and teachings fueling settler colonialism are based on polluting, damaging and exploiting, all of which ignore the sacred teaching of respect for Land and Water. If settler colonialism has no respect for our Land and Water, that means that it has no respect for our women. As Indigenous peoples are constantly reminding us, our relationship with Land and Water reflects our relationship with our women.
The question now is: how will the settler colonial state take this on? Will the national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women address the relationship between its “missing and murdered” Indigenous women and its “missing and murdered” Lands and Waters that have been stolen, polluted, and exploited by the processes of settler colonialism?