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Norway House Cree Nation Mission to Israel

by Rhonda Spivak, May 18, 2012,

 After visiting Israel 2 years ago, Chief Ron Evans of Norway House “was inspired like never before. I saw the similarity between our two peoples, the struggles and the successes. I saw that with a dream – all things are possible, no matter the obstacle. I deeply want to share this experience with the young people of my home community.” With that in mind, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Shelley Faintuch began developing, in conjunction with the Jerusalem office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, what would be the trip of a lifetime for 30 members of the Norway House Cree Nation. Among the participants were: Chief Evans and his wife Betsy, Youth Chief Tyler Duncan, Counselor Florence Duncan and Youth Counselors Spencer Chartrand and Alfred Laugher.

Norway House is a First Nations Cree Indian Reserve (Kinosao Sipi) and a community in Northern Manitoba of approximately 5,000-6,000 people. The community is located 456 km by air north of Winnipeg. It takes 8-9 hours to drive the 800 km from Winnipeg. And yet the mission participants had no qualms about travelling to Winnipeg to then travelling for over 20 hours, for some the first time ever outside of their community, to a land so far away from home. The purpose of the trip was to learn from others the lessons of self-determination, strength of pride in heritage and desire to make a better future happen. In other words, the chief wanted to help foster leadership ethics among the youth of this First Nations Community. Fundraising for the trip was conducted by participants and their community.

The mission combined opportunities for learning with fun, including social and teamwork activities – making for an exciting blend of the modern and ancient. Israel’s 64-year history as a state, and a range of resulting social and political issues, were a part of the agenda. Through visits to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the Ethiopian absorption Centre in Mevasseret Tzion (with speaker Micha Feldmann) , and talks by Palestinian Human Rights director Bassem Eid, the Centre’s Jerusalem Director David Weinberg, and Israel’s Tourism Ministry’s Uri Steinberg, participants got a glimpse of life in Israel and were able to explore various issues. Chief Evans took the opportunity to visit an Israeli greenhouse, for potential importing of Israeli technology and methods to his community.

An evening with Kav Hazinuk (The Starting Line) leadership development program in Israel’s Galil region provided the Israeli perspective on managing social issues and leadership development. Visiting holy sites in the Galilee and in the Old City of Jerusalem were highlights for many, and “brought the Bible to life”. Learning about the history of the Jews, the history of anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust through visits to Yad Vashem and the Atlit Detention Center taught participants how, despite diversity, Israel and the Jewish people have thrived. The pride in Jewish national heritage led one participant to comment: “We need to encourage our people to speak their language and learn their culture and history.”
The group explored Israel’s historical, religious, and national connection to the Land of Israel (the Western Wall, the wall tunnels, and archeological dig at Beit Guvrin), discussing similarities and differences between our peoples’ aspirations and futures. One of the young leaders remarked in the post-mission evaluation: “I was so inspired by the hard-working nature of society” that she wanted to teach others how to “strive to work as hard as the Jews and encourage our youth to volunteer where needed.”
“Seeing how much pride Israeli people have in their country makes me want to feel the same way about our community,” said one young participant from Norway House. For mission leader Shelley Faintuch, “seeing Israel through the eyes of the participants not only filled me with pride but with wonder at how we have managed to come so far in such a short time.”
As for the Chief, whose inspiration led to the launch of the mission, the trip was a huge success. “This was the trip of a lifetime, the learning experience that dreams are made of,” he remarked. “We will enjoy observing the impact that this mission has had on the young leaders over the years to come.”
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.