My life changed when I participated in the Norway House Cree Nation leadership development mission to Israel, a program co-hosted by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and Canada’s Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

While I learned about the country of Israel, Jewish culture, the people of Israel, and the history of this breathtaking place, this trip was a time of healing and encouragement. It gave me a different perspective on life, a realization that anyone can achieve their dreams and anyone can overcome obstacles that get in the way of their dreams. This trip opened my eyes to see the opportunities that are all around us. It was as if the veil that covered my eyes to the reality of life’s blessing was lifted.

During the trip we went to many sites, such as the Dead Sea, Masada, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mediterranean Sea, a Druze Village, and even the Canada Centre to skate with the local people. Each place had an important message for each and every one of us on the trip. A very special place for me was the Wailing Wall, because it rekindled my faith. During the trip I had the good fortune of being interviewed on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national news program to tell Canada how life-changing this trip was. Israel showed the young people who are our future that there is a bigger world out there and that life goes beyond what we see on a daily basis.

The Israel trip assisted in a healing of our people’s past. Seeing how far the Israeli people have come in the development of their country and freedom healed the small part of me that was affected by the residential school system. This happened at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, which proved to me that we have similar pasts.

Norway House Cree Nation mission to Israel

Norway House Cree Nation mission to Israel

At first I was angry at what happened to the Jewish people, but I became proud afterwards because they overcame that terrible part of history. This encouraged and shifted my thinking. As First Nations people, we can learn from the Jewish people, and we too can accomplish a lot. We can overcome our past and become stronger as First Nations people. We can make changes on the reservations and come together as a community to give our children a positive future. We can work together to restore the lost connections that were broken in the dark era of residential schools.

Unity is another virtue that was acquired. Though we were from the same community, I had no idea who most of the people were in the group. My own cousin was on the trip, and I had no idea who she was because we barely spoke to each other in our hometown. This trip reconciled our relationship and brought us closer. It brought people from the same community together. We went from knowing a person’s name to knowing a person.

The Norway House Cree Nation mission to Israel helped me understand the meaning of community. Community is where we come together, look past the differences, and look past the outer appearances. Seeing people helping one another showed me that in order to get somewhere as a community we need to look past the differences and cooperate. We can learn from one another, love one another, and come together to restore peace. We just need community. This trip also restored my family relationships as it showed me the love I have for my family. Each and every day I thought about my dad, sisters, and brother wishing they were there with me on the trip, which proved my love for them, and made my bond with each of them stronger.

Participants all had a different experience on this trip, but the best part was doing it together. My favorite part of the mission was the mission itself: it was a trip meant to develop leadership, and that mission was certainly accomplished. After the trip, I sat on the plane thinking “I can do it” and “life is what you make it”.

Today, my desire to help my home community is stronger and I am in love with Norway House more than ever because of the inspiration that was sparked during the Israel trip. Israel was a time of looking at the past, present, and future. During this time, it was as if my past, present, and future were all in one moment. I could see the little girl that was so scared of life and the woman in the future who is a leader of her people and a person who makes a difference in her own community. I could finally see me the way it was meant to be. In those few days of walking in the beautiful blessed country of Israel, I learned about life.