Indigenous Issues and Us

My congregation hosted a Chanukah event featuring Jesse Wente, a Canadian media personality with an Indigenous background. It was a wonderful evening. Wente is a dynamic and inspiring speaker who urged us to remember that Canada's 150 years is "cute" compared to the 15,000 years that Indigenous peoples lived here on Turtle Island.

He spoke about land acknowledgements, respecting the nations fighting pipelines, and that this is our time to go beyond being "allies," instead becoming "accomplices" in "conciliation." He noted that "reconciliation" implies there was a good relationship in the first instance. We need to create that relationship for the first time.

Many people who were there have been letting me know how inspired they were. We want to do what we can to support Indigenous peoples, both because of our Jewish call to tikkun olam, to repairing the world, and also as people who live in this country, and so want to do right by the people who live here and have experienced injustice.

Judaism tells us to "honour the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Indeed, to the Indigenous peoples of this land, we are strangers still. And they were welcoming of our ancestors when they arrived; we should be gracious in our dealings with them.

If you are inspired to be an "accomplice," there are a few things you can do. Firstly, he suggested we all give input on the Broadcasting Act as it is being revisited now:

If all of us write in that we demand fair allocation of time and resources to Indigenous media, so that all Canadians can hear the many stories of Indigenous peoples, we can make a real difference. Mr. Wente spoke beautifully about how if we know each other better we will care for each other better.

He also suggested attending a Pow Wow to meet Indigenous folks and get to know them.

At my community’s Indigenous/Jewish Tu B'shevat seder a couple of years ago, we signed petitions asking government to clean up Grassy Narrows, an Indigenous community poisoned by mercury from a nearby mill. The story is back in the news:

Ask your MP and MPP to clean up Grassy Narrows now. Check out this site for more resources:

For me, the reason to be Jewish is the teachings about how we treat the stranger, each other, our world. I am inspired by all who walk with me.  Happy to be accomplices with you!