Rekindling Identity:
Indigenous Voices Learning from Shared Heritage with Jews

Ryan Bellerose, from Indigenous Bridges Canada, highlights the parallels and divergences between the experiences of Jewish people and Indigenous Canadians, emphasizing that both groups share a common heritage of indigeneity. Like the Indigenous Canadians, Jewish people were forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands, causing profound cultural and psychological damage. While Jews were targeted due to continuous rebellion, Indigenous people were viewed as impediments to colonizers’ territorial aspirations. Despite differences in motivations, both groups faced systematic destruction, with the Jewish people enduring the swift brutality of the Holocaust and Indigenous Canadians facing a protracted genocide spanning centuries.

Bellerose believes that Indigenous people can learn significantly from the Jewish journey back to their ancestral lands and the revival of their language. Applying the strategies used by Jews to challenge occupying powers in Israel, however, may not be realistic in Canada, where colonizers quickly became the numerical majority. Instead, Bellerose suggests Indigenous communities can strive for participatory power in governance, an approach they could glean from the Jewish experience.

Rejecting the “victim” narrative pushed by some, Bellerose underscores the need for Indigenous communities to empower themselves through education and participation in modern society. There is a growing trend among Indigenous youth to seek practical ways to advance their communities, like gaining higher education and entering professional fields. However, the challenge of maintaining a coherent community when many must leave the reserve for work or education remains significant.

Regarding the potential of an Israeli delegation visiting Indigenous communities, Bellerose suggests the presence of traditional Jews, proud of their indigenous identity, could be influential. They could help dispel misconceptions while demonstrating that being traditional and indigenous does not mean being primitive. Such interactions could inspire Indigenous communities to take pride in their authentic identities and maintain them despite external pressures. Although the path to self-determination and preservation of culture is challenging, lessons from the shared indigenous heritage and struggles of Jewish and Indigenous people could provide valuable insights for overcoming these obstacles.