Among the tens of thousands who participated in the recent Walk with Israel event in Toronto on Sunday was a group of Indigenous supporters, some of whom had travelled halfway around the planet to stand in solidarity with their Jewish Canadian friends and colleagues.

Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem is a project of Indigenous Coalition for Israel, a global group of First Nations people lending their voices in support of Israel and its people.

Dr. Sheree Trotter, co-director of Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem, spoke to the National Post from Toronto, where she had travelled to participate in Sunday’s March. A Maori and historian with a PhD from the University of Auckland, Trotter also co-founded the Indigenous Coalition for Israel in 2021.

“I was worried about the pro-Palestinian voices among Maoris,” she explains. “I was concerned about the way the Indigenous voice was being aligned. A lot of it was based on a false narrative.”

Put simply, Trotter does not believe that Jews are a colonial, occupying force in Israel, as some have positioned them to be. “They have more than a three and a half thousand year connection with the land,” she says. “Their ancestors have lived there since time immemorial.”

As such, she and others see Jewish Israelis as Indigenous people, similar to the way Maoris in New Zealand or the various First Nations in Canada and the United States are recognized as Indigenous.

Sheree Trotter at the opening of Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem on Feb. 1.Photo by Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem

“There is no universally recognized definition of Indigeneity,” Trotter wrote in an article titled A Light for Indigenous Nations. “However, a number of criteria … are generally accepted: self-identification, historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies; strong links to territories and surrounding natural resources; distinct social, economic, or political systems; distinct language, culture, and beliefs; form non-dominant groups of society; resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinct communities.”

She concluded: “It is not difficult to see that the Jewish people fulfil the requirements for Indigeneity.” In fact, she finds much similarity, even overlap, between Jewish culture and her own Maori heritage.

“Dispossession, disenfranchisement, discrimination; all these things that also the Jewish people have suffered form,” Trotter says. “We see it and recognize it. And they had the same Indigenous longing for their land as we have for our land.”

Another similarity is the struggle Indigenous groups have had to keep their spoken languages alive. In the 19th century, she notes, Hebrew was a dying tongue, threatened in the same way that many First Nations languages are today.

“It’s miraculous the way they’ve resurrected their language so it’s the everyday language of Israel today,” she says.

Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem is a new creation, having just opened its doors in February. But it also has a long history. Twenty-five years ago, Grand Chief Lynda Prince travelled from her home in Canada to the Knesset in Israel with a proposal for an embassy.

Prince acknowledged Maori leader Monte Ohia, who led the World Christian Indigenous Peoples movement in the 1990s and early 2000s, and explained that he backed her desire to include Jews as Indigenous peoples.

Prince, who is chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation in British Columbia, has since been named the group’s North American envoy. At an event in Seattle this month to mark the opening of Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem, she said: “We are extremely elated that the IEJ has become reality, and thank the Maori who assisted to push it through to fruition.”

Sheree Trotter (L) and Grand Chief Lynda Prince
Sheree Trotter (left) greets Grand Chief Lynda Prince at an event this month in Seattle.Photo by Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem

Trotter notes that there has been pushback to the notion of Jews as Indigenous to Israel, even within the global Indigenous community. But she says much of that has been rooted in antisemitism.

“We’re living in a time when antisemitism is reaching horrendous levels,” she says.

She adds that Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem aims to gather and amplify voices from Indigenous groups around the world, not just Maoris.

“We wanted to have an embassy for all Indigenous people,” she says. “We tend to be minorities in our lands, so it’s important to join our forces together globally to stand with Israel.”

Trotter relished the experience of being part of Sunday’s Walk with Israel march in Toronto.

“It was amazing to be there,” she says. “We held our banners and stood with the Jewish community. They had tears in their eyes, thanking us.”

And she says they had no difficulty understanding how the story of a Maori from Auckland might resonate with that of a Jew in Toronto, or in Israel.

“When we tell our story, they totally get it,” she says.

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