Syrian Refugee Crisis has Native Roots

by Doug George-Kanentiio/Guest

Any Native person who knows their history can see the similarities between the massive influx of refugees into Europe from Africa and Syria. They know that the European powers met after WWI to carve up the Middle East into areas of self-interest based upon the exploitation of natural resources and the fear that a united indigenous people may well stand in the way of their lust for power and oil.

It was Winston Churchill, US President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister Lloyd George and French premier Georges Clemenceau who divided the world, taking away most of the German colonies and opposing, as an example, the rise of a single Arab state. They had lied to individuals such as T.E. Lawrence about their plans for the Middle East when he had promised the native peoples there that if they defeated the Ottomans (Turks) they would have their own state. They created Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia .

But deception was, and has been, an integral part of European diplomacy. The Iroquois learned this bitter lesson long before they leaders of the “democracies” met in Paris to dictate terms to a defeated Germany and sow the seeds of other wars. We had initiated formal treaty relations with France, the Netherlands, the British and the Americans only to have each one of them violate those agreements at the pleasure. Treaties were not rooted in honor or trust but mere acts of convenience for the land and resource hungry colonies. They never had any intent to acknowledge our sovereignty only insofar as it fit their devious plans to steal the land and divide the people.

They did so in America and across the planet. Their policy was to do what they could to frustrate any movement towards indigenous nationality; the Europeans were bound by the capitalists who placed material profit above everything else and in turn exercised complete control over the political leadership.

In America, tens of thousands of Natives became refugees when their lands were stolen and the people attacked by militia, vigilantes and the military. The Iroquois Confederacy responded by granting vast areas for these displaced people to live: Esopus, Wappinger, Mahican, Canestoga, Nipmuck, Abenaki, Nippising, Huron and many others rebuilt their homes with some becoming naturalized citizens of the Confederacy.

It is little-known, and never acknowledged in European or North American schools, that it was the Iroquois who invented the processes of naturalization now used by those countries and in particular Canada and the US. We took people born of a different nation and devised a set formula as to ow to make them Iroquois and our methods were copied by the western nations without reference.

Now the Europeans are in crisis, not knowing how to respond to those human beings felling from a war which is largely supported by Russia and war monger companies who provide the bombs, planes and firearms to the combatants. It is the Europeans who supported dictatorial regimes in the Middle East as long as their lands were open to resource extraction and the Europeans who vigorously opposed human rights movements and the rise of democratic nations.

How will Europe respond to this situation? Will their leaders acknowledge that they are, in part, responsible for the civil war in Syria?  Will they close their borders to women and children, the elderly and the oppressed or will they use their police and their administrators to turn them back? Will Canada and the US hide behind their respective bureaucracies and the all encompassing “fear of terrorism” to deny entry to those in greatest need? Will they forget their own history, when they were the wretched of the earth taken in by the Native peoples and taught the principles of freedom?

As they say, the whole world is watching and so far, the Europeans seems to have learned nothing from their past. We Iroquois are ready to remind them and to give them instruction as to how to embrace the displaced and heal their wounds.


Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association as well as a former trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. He is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge and is the author of “Iroquois on Fire” among other books. He may be reached via e-mail: Kanentiio@aol.com.

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