Indigenous solidarity through a Muslim lens: A conversation with frontline defender Anushka Azadi

tumblr_inline_o29xpdDMv41twf2ub_500Re-posted from Breaking the Fast

Thanks so much Anushka for taking the time to talk with Breaking the Fast (BTF).

BTF: Let’s start with introductions. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Anushka: My name is Anushka. I am a frontline defender and legal advocate, broadcast journalist, writer, performer, community organizer and all around bad bitch.

BTF: How did you come to doing work with Indigenous land defenders? When did you start? 

Anushka: As an immigrant to so-called Canada, growing up in poverty and fear, in pain and confusion, made me deeply aware of and sensitive to the intersecting oppressions that twisted up, not only my life, but the lives of others as well. I began understanding words like systemic, institutional and I began to understand the horrors that accompanied what was taught to me as the rise of civilization: industrialization, capitalism/free market economies, “democracy”. 

I began to understand these larger systems that were actively suppressing and attempting assimilation of my heart and body into units measured by time and money. I began to understand how these systems were made and maintained, on whose bones and blood and bodies Western nation states had been built on and there was no turning away from it after that. I didn’t begin organizing in this direction right away. I didn’t know how and I had a lot to learn.

So I went off and did that. I was still organizing and active but my priority was to listen to those belonging to the Territories I subsisted off of as well, as an immigrant settler. My priority was to also do my own learning. And then I made a very serious commitment maybe about 4 years ago, just before I was violently arrested and assaulted by the Vancouver Police Department, that all the organizing I did on Indigenous Territories, i.e. all of Canada, would center the struggle of those who are Indigenous, against this terrorist state and occupying force that has committed genocide since contact.

BTF: You’ve been doing support work with various campaigns and communities, from Ahousaht to the Ts’peten Defence Committee and Secwepemc Elder/Defender Wolverine and many more. Can you tell us about some of these latest campaigns? 

Anushka: Over the last two years, I’ve worked in many different Territories, with many different Tribes/Nations. I’ve been living out of my pack since September this year, traveling and making the most use out of the time, energy and skills.

This last year, I spent time in Ahousaht (colonially known as Flores Island, 45 minutes by boat from Tofino). Something very big and very special was happening there. There are 16 fish farms in Ahousaht waters. If you don’t know yet about the destruction fish farms cause in the waters they are put in, that’s something you should go learn more about. Anyway, a 17th fish farm was to be put in despite agreements that had been made clearly laying out there were to be no more fish farms in that territory.

An Ahousaht man had been patrolling the waters on his boat and had seen that they were getting ready to put a new fish farm in, consented to by the Chiefs but not the people. With support from the greater Ahousaht community a blockade was put up on the floating docks of the fish farm before the company had the chance to fully anchor and net the farm in. I traveled out to support the blockade. While it was a small group of us, mostly Ahousaht, it was a powerful one. The fish farm ended up being carted away and this was the first time in history that one of these farms had been stopped in its tracks like this. The Ahousaht continue to monitor their waters and are fighting for the removal of the 16 other fish farms in their territory, some so rife with disease they are creating serious hazards in the waters of this community and destroying the once healthy wild salmon population the families on this island rely on.

Currently I am in Secwepemculecw, so-called Interior B.C., just outside of the settler community called Chase. I am living with Wolverine and his family and have been for almost a month now, doing a variety of things. I am responsible for Wolverine’s personal care as he is recovering from being ill. I am also actively working on his call for a National Inquiry into the Gustafsen Lake/Ts’Peten Standoff (1995). This work has been and will continue to be expansive and is calling out so-called Canada for its continuing genocide against Indigenous peoples, but also for its illegal and brutal occupation of unceded and unsurrendered Territories where no treaties have been signed and there are no legal means that allow for the Provincial or Federal governments to have any jurisdiction on these Lands. Check out our Facebook Page, Ts’Peten Defence Committee or the website for more.

BTF: As a Muslim woman and settler who is deeply embedded in this work, how do you practice intentional and responsible solidarity with Indigenous communities? 

Anushka: Mindful and responsible solidarity when working within Indigenous communities is an ongoing practice for me. Unsurprisingly, I’ve made many mistakes and stumbled along the way. I think the very first thing that is important to acknowledge is that allyship and solidarity are action words and verbs. They are not a thing to be achieved and then hold but are constantly moving and shifting states of being, seeing and acting.

And so I practice listening first and then taking direction from those belonging to the communities I am working in. I am reminded of and remind myself of my own position of privilege and the authority I am given because of it. I actively work to cede that authority in favour of more equal and egalitarian relations. Of more loving, caring and kind relations.

I practice letting go of much of what I was taught societally in regards to sharing time, money and resources and sharing space, culture and knowledge. I practice letting go of my own ego, my own importance. And cede all that I can and all that I am to the larger movement, the real resistance, the struggle to stop a genocidal “nation” from its continued brutalization and theft of Peoples and Lands.

BTF: In what ways does your identity as a Muslim woman inform this work? Do you think Islam – as you would define it – has a spiritual framework that encourages solidarity and resistance to oppression? 

Anushka: My identity in full goes something like this: Polyamorous, Queer, (Dis)Able/d Muslim Woman. I identify as Muslim more politically, culturally and socially than I do spiritually these days. I have not found a spiritual framework that is also a community framework that I can engage in holding or expressing my full identity. My spiritual understanding of Islam has always required I actively recognize and resist inequality, unfairness and injustice. I have embodied that so far in as honest of a way as I can.

BTF: Have you come across any similarities in your interactions with various Indigenous and Muslim communities? 

Anushka: I grew up in a Muslim community in a large and loud Muslim family and I have spent time in other Muslim communities as well. Over the last few years of my life, I’ve spent long periods of time living in Indigenous communities, on reservations, in villages or in camps and blockades. I’ve spent time living and traveling with Indigenous families and here is where I see the similarities. Growing up I blossomed in the strength, the language, the culture, the safety and the beauty of my people and my community. The love that people offered each other, the support and care, the emphasis on loving and lifting up your brothers and your sisters were the best parts of my community. I see so much of this in the Indigenous communities I live in and move through. There is a consistent core of culture and language, strength and love, care and support. These communities are lifting themselves and are lifting each other up and it’s powerful. And I am consistently grateful and immensely happy to be allowed to be working so closely and intimately within these communities.

BTF: Do you think there has been a growth in solidarity and awareness between Muslim settler communities and Indigenous communities since both were singled out and targeted by the last government (e.g. Bill C-51)?

Anushka: Bill C-51 is the dirtiest trick in the book of fascist government oppression and repression. Fear monger, whip the country back into the Terrorist frenzy. An easy target, Muslims are already regarded with fear, suspicion, distrust and even revulsion. Use this extreme fear to pass a bill that is so brazenly fascist in nature we may as well make the announcement now: this is a police state and it has been for some time. This is the formalization and legalization process of the same that we’re at now.

This bill isn’t meant to be used right away. It’s meant to coast on the fear of Terrorism (which also now includes interference with the economy) in order to surveil, criminalize, imprison and so liquidate opposition to the state. Top of the list, Indigenous People whose very existence and resistance represents the biggest threat, the most serious threat since contact, to settlers and the settler colonial state.

I believe there has been some growth in solidarity between these communities but I also believe there must be more active building between not only Muslim settler communities but also other communities of colour and Indigenous communities. This is crucial. We must be building together. We must be reaching out. We must be making those connections and we must be honouring the People whose Lands and Waters we live on.

BTF: What are your thoughts on the current government? Some of the rhetoric appears to have changed but perhaps not much has changed practically? For example, there has been a lot of visibility about the appointment of an Indigenous woman, Jody Wilson Raybould, as the new Federal Justice Minister/Attorney General. Yet her response to demands for an inquiry into Gustafsen Lake has been disappointing. 

Anushka: My thoughts on the current government are the same as my thoughts on previous governments. The Federal Government, Liberal, Conservative, white man number 1, 2 or 100, they have no reason or right to be here. They are an aggressive occupying force. They have no reason or right to be claiming and acting out any kind of authority and jurisdiction backed by armed forces and violence, white washing all of it with this veneer of “democracy” and “multiculturalism”, “tolerance” and “inclusion”.

The state/government’s perpetuation of genocide, of white supremacy, of heteropatriarchy, the building of this Nation and government on the bones and blood of those who are Indigenous are all reasons that I have little to say on the current government, the past government, the future government. They are all the same to me.

And so not surprisingly, our interactions with the government, with Federal Minister of Justice/AG Jody Wilson Raybould specifically, as the Ts’Peten Defence Committee, are disappointing.

BTF: You do a lot of policy/legal support for many of these campaigns. How do you balance having to at times engage with the colonial legal system while doing grassroots, front line solidarity work with Indigenous communities under constant attack from the same colonial regime? 

Anushka: So here’s the fun part, I graduated from Law School a few years ago now. I have, sort of, pursued articling to get to the part where I pass the bar and become a real lawyer! This hasn’t happened yet and I’m not sure if it ever will. I prefer not having to engage with the colonial legal system at all, in that, I prefer not having to go to court, make applications, call the judge lord or lady, your honour or whatever. Which is not to say that I won’t and haven’t gone to court to defend against injunctions and other sneaky shit, that I won’t fill out the forms, do the applications, act as legal advocate when that is necessary and appropriate.

When working with Indigenous communities in resistance, legal knowledge is valuable for more than just engaging in the colonial legal system. Legal knowledge instead offers another point or perspective in planning counter strategies and is especially useful when legal documents and applications are being thrown at the front lines in attempts at intimidation, initiating legal action and the like.

I don’t believe in the law, it’s a fiction, it is laughable what these white men (think they) have done and it is enraging how these white men have done it. It’s not over yet.

BTF: Why do you think it’s important for Muslim communities here to actively be engaged in supporting Indigenous struggles? 

Anushka: It is important for Muslim communities and generally, communities of colour living on Indigenous Territories to actively be engaging in supporting Indigenous struggles because so many of our communities also come from, are running from colonization and there is so much solidarity to be had between all of our struggles and our cultures, so much strength and so much power.

More importantly, as settlers too, our presence on these Territories, being settled, destroyed and stolen by the colonial state of Canada, means we have a certain responsibility and a serious one to actively resist this state, the genocide and the brutal oppression of those Indigenous to these Territories.

BTF: Muslims continue to face ongoing systemic oppression and also occupy the role of settlers on Indigenous land. What are some of the ways in which we can encourage our communities to engage in long term relationship building and solidarity with Indigenous communities and struggles within a framework of decolonization?

Anushka: Our communities must know the history of the Land they are walking on. They must know the truth about the country they are living in. They must know in a way that they will understand. And when they do, they must act. Because we know injustice, we know war, we know, we know, we know. And we must ally ourselves with others who know. We are stronger together, stronger than we’ve ever been and we must keep building on this. For us, for our brothers and sisters, for our children, for our future generations. These are important times and if we do not rise to this occasion, we will lose so much more.

BTF: Thanks so much Anushka for taking the time to connect with us. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Anushka: When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

Bio: Anushka Azadi is a queer Ismaili Muslim, frontline defender, legal advocate, broadcast journalist, writer, performer, community organizer and all around bad bitch. 



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