A uniquely moving event took place on Thursday, May 18, in ancient Shilo and Eli, Israel, celebrating the successful actualization of Indigenous rights by the Jewish people and promoting solidarity with Indigenous communities worldwide. Organized by the Israel-based Heartland Initiative and the international NGO Indigenous Bridges, the gathering sought to highlight commonalities between Indigenous peoples and foster cross-tribal support and cooperation.
The day began with a reception in Eli, where Mayor Ariel Elmaliach warmly welcomed distinguished guests, including Yonathan Ben Yisrael and Gedaliah Blum, co-founders of the Heartland Initiative, Ateret Violet Shmuel from Indigenous Bridges, indigenous activists Ryan Bellerose, a Métis from Calgary Alberta, and Nadav Yair, a Hawaiian indigenous and now resident of the community of Kfar Tapuach in the Shomron. Participants were then invited to a tour of Eli, exploring significant achievements in development despite hardships and opposition such as the community center, Bnei David Pre-Military Yeshiva, and the security center.
“It was an honor to host such an eclectic and diverse group who represents many other indigenous peoples and tribes around the world. As Eli’s mayor, I tell everyone, our door is open to all those who seek friendship,” said first-generation Israeli, Mayor Ariel Elmaliach, of Moroccan descent. “We also believe in the power of solidarity and cooperation among indigenous communities worldwide, and this event provided a meaningful platform for fostering connections, mutual support, and collaboration.”
Following the visit to Eli, the delegation proceeded to ancient Shilo, the site of the first Jewish capital in the land of Israel following the exodus from Egypt. The tour incorporated a fascinating exploration of the site’s archaeological wonders and a multimedia presentation, captivating the attendees. The delegation was left awestruck by the remarkable museum collection that testified to the rich and ancient history of the site dating back 3,500 years.
Bellerose, an indigenous activist and head of the Canadian branch of Indigenous Bridges, expressed his desire to introduce Israelis from the heartland regions to his community of indigenous people. However, he emphasized that it should not be just any Israeli but specifically those living within Judea, Samaria, Binyamin and the Jordan Valley.
“In my community, we have been told time and time again that being who we are is shameful,” said Bellerose. “I believe that by introducing Israelis from the heartland regions to my community, we can learn from their strength and pride. The people in Israel’s heartland are proud of their heritage, know where they came from, and know where they are going. Their attitude and mindset can serve as an inspiration.”
This event was organized under the auspices of Indigenous Bridges, a nonpartisan international nonprofit organization dedicated to creating connections and support systems for Indigenous communities worldwide. Indigenous Bridges has built a diverse team representing various Indigenous nations globally, fostering international solidarity, cooperation, and partnerships among Indigenous communities.
Heartland Initiative, the co-host of the event, shares a similar vision with Indigenous Bridges in building bridges between Israel and its friends worldwide. One of the organization’s aims is to bring life and love to all friendly indigenous communities around the world. The collaboration between Indigenous Bridges and Heartland Initiative exemplifies the power of collective action and solidarity in promoting indigenous rights, fostering positive change, and providing access to what Israel has to offer.
Gedaliah Blum, co-founder of Heartland Initiative, emphasized that “this gathering not only celebrates Indigenous success but also opens doors for collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Indigenous communities that collaborate with Israel gain access not only to friendship and solidarity but also to Israel’s innovative solutions, technology, and expertise. Israel has become a global leader in innovation, and by working together, indigenous communities can benefit from these advancements,” said Blum.
The Indigenous rights event in ancient Shilo and Eli served as a launching pad for indigenous communities to explore collaborations and partnerships with Israel. It provided a platform for dialogue, knowledge exchange, and the forging of connections that can lead to long-term relationships based on mutual benefit and shared goals.
Yonathan Ben Yisrael, co-founder of the Heartland Initiative, emphasized their commitment to facilitating collaboration. “At the Heartland Initiative, we believe in building bridges and relationships through public diplomacy on a grassroots level. Our mission is to strengthen Israel and the connections to it by identifying mutual interests and fostering lasting cooperation,” said Ben Yisrael. “This event highlighted the Heartland Initiative’s dedication to uncovering the Jewish people’s deep connection to the land by sharing our experiences with other indigenous peoples. And by working together, we all, the Indigenous communities of the world, can forge a path towards a more prosperous future.”
The celebration of indigenous success and the exchange of experiences between indigenous communities and Israel serve as a testament to the shared values of self-determination, cultural preservation and economic empowerment. As indigenous peoples unite and collaborate, they can draw strength from each other’s resilience and inspire positive change within their own communities. Together with Israel, they can pave the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for all. Ateret Violet Shmuel from Indigenous Bridges summed it up beautifully, stating, “Through this event, we have witnessed the transformative power of unity and mutual understanding. By coming together and embracing our shared humanity, we can create a world where Indigenous peoples thrive and prosper, where their rights are honored, and their cultures are celebrated.”