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Thursday, September 18, 2014

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We, too, are aboriginal

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Avrum Rosensweig

Chances are you don’t know the following: over a 400-year period, our land’s first people were marginalized until they were considered non-citizens, strangers, insignificant. This process was subtle and slow, but don’t be fooled: the Europeans who arrived on our shores systematically and strategically made our First Nations people feel invisible, as insignificant as an ant on your desk.  

Here’s some background.

It would be easy to look back at the history of our Aboriginal Peoples and see a bunch of people scattered throughout the land, running wild and savagely warring with others and spending days sharpening their arrowheads. That’s the “John Wayne myth,” which is as nonsensical as the story of Jews, warped noses and all, sitting by the “gate,” hands extended, collecting debts from Christians.

But like us, the Jewish People, Aboriginals in this land lived by a code of laws and had a sophisticated way of life. Elders passed on oral stories from one generation to the next. Native children learned that they were part of the entire creation, and they gave thanks to nature for their survival. We Jews call this process Torah sheba’al peh (oral Torah). 

First Nations gave respect to all things in their environment, animate or otherwise. They did so through songs, dance, festivals and ceremonies – just like we do through ritual. According to an Aboriginal Affairs online history, “In the Woodland First Nations, for example, a hunter would talk or sing to a bear before it died, thanking the animal for providing the hunter and his family with much-needed food.”

You might also read this: “The Haudenosaunee held six to eight festivals a year relating to the cultivation of the soil and ripening of fruits and berries. There was a seven-day festival to give thanks when corn was planted, for example, and another when it was green. A third festival was held when corn was harvested.” This sounds very much like our Shalosh Regalim, the three major holidays we celebrate at key times in the agricultural calendar.

As the colonialists arrived in great numbers, they demanded more land from Aboriginal Peoples. By the 1830s, only small lots were made available to the First Nations in Upper Canada. Through this land grab, First Nations had less and less, and essentially became strangers on their former lands.

At the same time, Christians worked arduously to convert native peoples to their religion, as various denominations still do today with our people. The lives of our Aboriginal Peoples became more and more dismal due to starvation, disease and a clear plan to marginalize them within what we now call Canada. Their spirit was all but destroyed.

There is much more history to learn, clearly, and I advise you to go online and read as much as you can about the history of Canada’s original peoples particularly the residential school years. The truth is beginning to emerge.

(As you study, you’ll discover that the decimation of Aboriginal People’s society, as I mentioned, happened over four centuries. The compelling point within this is that Native people today cannot remember what the “glory days” were like when they had control over their own land and culture. This is unlike our own people, who came out of the Holocaust with a clear memory of what had happened only a decade prior. I make this comparison, because I often hear from our own people, “Well, we put our lives back together after the Holocaust. Why can’t First Nations?” The comparison is incomplete.)

There’s a wave of interest within our community about our First Nations, Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters. Educate yourself. Learn about the Reform movement’s recent resolution in support of First Nations and Ve’ahavta’s health-promotion program in the Kenora region of Ontario. Become part of this movement.

We, too, are Aboriginal people in the Land of Israel, and we understand that sort of struggle. We were also victims of anti-Semitism right here in Canada. Let’s use all of that knowledge and experience, as well as the beauty we share between our cultures, to create a strong bond with First Nations, Metis and Inuit.

There is much to learn. There is much to share. It is time.

Avrum.rosensweig@veahavta.org

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