Last night, I learned some great lessons. I learned them from my dear friend, Ryan Mervin, who spoke to us about his impressions of Israel where he has just spent a couple of weeks.
Ryan is a Canadian. More precisely, he is a Meti or what he defines himself as, a member of Canada’s indigenous population. Ryan crystallized to many of us here why it is important for us, Jews, to recognize, define and proclaim ourselves as the Indigenous population of Eretz Yisrael (The Land of Yisrael, AKA Palestine, its arbitrary name, by some).
What struck me most about Ryan’s lecture was the fact that the term “indigenous” is not just about blood quantum which is the amount of blood used to determine an individual’s tribal affiliation and legal rights. According to him, it is also determined, among some other factors, by the preservation and management of Holy sites. And if there is one aspect of our indigenous status that we Jews are good at, it is certainly the way we revere and manage our Holy Sites, some of which are thousands of years old.
The love for these sites, the longing to visit them and pray in them has been expressed in our a few millennia old prayers, literature and art. Ryan recognized it and appreciated it. In fact it, is this aspect of our Jewish indigenous affiliation that is very instrumental in his desire to organize a trip to Israel to help some of his own people experience what he has. Ryan’s message of last night was very powerful.
It prompted me to look for more information that could help cement the position which he, my dear friend Philippe Assouline and others have been advocating about Jewish rights to Eretz Yisrael. One of the documents which I found and which was published by the UN even supports the Jews’ claims for indigenous rights for Eretz Yisrael -– ” The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.” This is what I read there:
Understanding the term “indigenous”
Considering the diversity of indigenous peoples, an official definition of “indigenous” has not been adopted by any UN-system body. Instead the system has developed a modern understanding of this term based on the following: Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies Strong link 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 distinctive peoples and communities
Following my reading of these lines, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that they described me and my people! Furthermore, the same document also provides a definition of the Culture and Knowledge of the indigenous people:
Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They have a special relation to and use of their traditional land. Their ancestral land has a fundamental importance for their collective physical and cultural survival as peoples. Indigenous peoples hold their own diverse concepts of development, based on their traditional values, visions, needs and priorities.
Now is there anyone here who can stand and honestly say that this does not describe us, Jews, and our connection and affiliation with Eretz Yisrael? Is there one who can say that this does not legitimize our claim to this land, our ancestral land? How about starting with the U.N.?