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Aboriginal trip to focus on Israeli innovation

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Chief Ron Evans, the leader of the Norway House Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba
Chief Ron Evans, the leader of the Norway House Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba

Chief Ron Evans, the leader of the Norway House Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba, believes Israeli entrepreneurship can motivate his community’s youth to achieve more.

For the third time in five years, Evans is leading a group of younger community members on a tour of Israel.

There will be 25 Norway House band members going on the 2016 Youth Leadership Development Mission to Israel, Feb. 22 to March 2, Evans said.

Norway House is a community of about 6,000 some 450 kilometres north of Winnipeg on the northern shore of Lake Winnipeg. Evans, who served two terms as grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the Israeli experience naturally resonates with Canada’s First Nations.

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“Our aim is to develop the next generation of First Nations leaders by looking through the lens of Israel’s inspiring story,” he said. “Israel is first and foremost the land of the heritage of the Jewish People, who have achieved self-determination in a modern democracy and diverse state. Those of us from First Nations communities can appreciate the fascinating balance between modern and ancient that we see in Israel, and especially the sense of connection to the land of one’s ancestors.”

There is also a spiritual connection between his people with their Christian faith, and the land of Jesus as well as of the Jews, he said. “We learn the stories of the Bible. Therefore, a visit to Israel will resonate more with my people than a trip to a theme park such as Disneyland.”

This year’s mission – the previous trips were in 2012 and 2013 – will be focus especially on Israel as the “start-up nation.” “We want to see what we can learn from Israeli innovation,” Evans said. “Perhaps we will be able to forge some links that will benefit our community economically.”

So, while there will be visits to Christian religious sites – the area around the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem and a reputed baptism site on the lower Jordan River – and some of the regular tourist destinations including Yad Vashem and Jerusalem, Independence Hall and Jaffa, Caesarea, Masada and the Dead Sea, and a visit to a Bedouin village – the Norway House group will learn about Israeli technology and economic development.

On their second day in Israel, for example, they will receive a briefing on Israel’s high-tech sector. They will later be introduced to new developments in medicinal agriculture, including a tour of projects in the Upper Galilee, and water technology. They will also visit the Ahava factory, a hospitality staff training centre in Herzliya, a 3D printing operation and Kol HaOt, an international Jewish educational art program.

Evans said it was difficult to attract participants the first year. “There was a lot of fearmongering about war and violence. But that first trip was so successful that we didn’t have any trouble getting together the second group. We had a full slate for this year, including Norway House author Brenda Fontaine, and other aboriginal community leaders are asking us how we organized the trip.

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“We hope to make this mission to Israel an annual event.”
Shelley Faintuch, community relations director for Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and associate director of local partner services of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, who organized the mission’s itinerary, noted that the Norway House Cree Nation successfully raised all of the funds for the trip through various initiatives, including a golf tournament, silent auctions, raffle tickets and pancake breakfasts.

“I am very excited to do the mission with Norway House Cree Nation this year. Learning about small entrepreneurship in Israel, seeing Israel through the eyes of first-time visitors and sharing the adventure. There could be nothing better.”