By Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch, Executive Director and Jody Sokolower, Teach Palestine Coordinator
“Now I can tell my family that we aren’t the only people who went through this,” a Pueblo student wrote at the end of a Teach Palestine Project workshop at the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) in New Mexico. Zeiad Abbas Shamrouch and Jody Sokolower, representing MECA’s Teach Palestine Project, spent Oct. 8-10, 2018, at SFIS, learning about Pueblo and Navajo history, teaching Palestinian history, and talking with students and staff about the similarities of Israeli and US settler colonialism.
Monday, Oct. 8, was the school’s annual Feast Day, a celebration of the Pueblo Revolt: In 1680, Po’Pay, an Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo) leader, united Tewa, Tiwa, Hopi, Zuni, and Apache peoples from the surrounding areas and forced the Spanish military and settlers out. They maintained their independence for 12 years before better-armed Spanish forces returned to reconquer the Santa Fe area.
The SFIS Feast Day began with a student run commemorating the messengers who carried plans for the revolt from pueblo to pueblo. The rest of the day included a schoolwide convocation on resistance and reconciliation, traditional dances by student groups, and lots of music, food, and crafts.
The following day, Zeiad and Jody led workshops for students about Palestine and the connections to the students’ own histories and current realities. The workshops began with a gallery walk: Students examined four sets of pictures on the walls. Each set illuminated an issue that resonates for both Palestinians and Indigenous peoples from the Santa Fe area—forced migration, the impact on children and youth of continuing colonial conquest, efforts by colonizers to cover over real history, and resistance. Many of the students were struck by the drawings created by children in Gaza. “Is this their reality?” they asked, staring at the representations of burning schools, dropping bombs, and destroyed olive trees.
Then Zeiad used historical photos and his own family’s history to explain Palestinian history since the beginning of Zionism in the 19th century, the issues facing Palestinians today, and the nature of ongoing Palestinian survival and struggle.
“I went to teach, but I learned more than I taught,” Zeiad says about the visit to SFIS. “As much as you think you know about Native American history, when you learn about a specific area, you learn something new. And every time I learn a new aspect of Native American history, I learn something about myself and my own history.
“One of the most important things I learned was the long history of Pueblo and Navajo people in rejecting assimilation. They refuse to accept US colonization. Everything around them is pushing them to accept this new reality. But, like Palestinians, many refuse to assimilate. When we realize what happened to our parents, our grandparents—and for the Native Americans here, many generations back—it leads us to challenge the reality of conquest. We do everything we can to stop the forces that want to erase our history and identity, to uproot us and our history. Seeing how the Indigenous people here have fought for so many generations without giving up, for us as Palestinians, this is an inspiration.
“Another thing that struck me was the connection between us as indigenous peoples. When I was presenting my story to the students, I could feel them thinking: ‘We know what you are talking about. This is how it is for us; this is our life, too. When we see the bombs and teargas raining down on Gaza, this is happening to you now, but something so similar happened to us and is still happening.
“What happened to our ancestors is still inside us. It doesn’t matter if we seem ok on the outside, we are still all waiting for justice. This ties us together. There is a need inside us, like the need for water, for food. This is a need for justice. We don’t know how it will feel when we experience it, but we can’t give up the fight.”
Jennifer Guerin, the SFIS librarian who played a key role in organizing the visit, says that the school community was inspired by the workshops. “We’ve had wonderful, thought-provoking conversations with the students and among the staff. At the end of each workshop, students created ‘quilt squares’ on origami paper with some reflection on what they learned. A group of students turned the squares into a quilt, and now they’re interested in learning more about Palestine and what they can do to help.”
“Once we started talking, we could see how deep the similarities go, both in terms of history and current issues,” Jody reflects. “For example, SFIS has a strong focus on environmental activism. Like the people of Palestine, Indigenous people here are very concerned about water. In the Santa Fe area, there is serious degradation of the environment caused by continuing theft of indigenous land and resources, and by climate change. This is just one of the areas where we can see working together.
“Everyone at the school was so welcoming and we learned so much from the discussions and being part of the community. We can’t wait to return and continue our work together. We hope this is the beginning of a long-term collaboration on curriculum and solidarity.”