The Assembly of First Nations that represents all the indigenous peoples of Canada says it wants to establish a diplomatic mission in Israel.
Members of an AFN delegation, which included several chiefs of various nations, met with President Moshe Katsav last week to tell him how much they were inspired by Israel in their quest to reclaim their national identities, cultures and territories.
During the meeting, Peter Barrow, chief of the Indian Island, New Brunswick, proposed that Israel start a diplomatic relationship with the indigenous people of Canada. "You know how hard it was for you to be recognized," he said. "We want to establish a diplomatic mission here. We are looking to become globally accepted and global players."
Earlier, after having heard Katsav outline the ancient and modern history of Israel up to the current situation with Hamas, AFN national chief Phil Fontaine briefed the president on the history, the tribulations and the aims of the nations that have united under the AFN banner.
"We also had a great civilization rich in tradition, with a great contribution towards Canada," he said. "We don't occupy the same place. We struggle to revitalize our culture and work hard to preserve our language.
"We're the original indigenous people of Canada. Once, all of Canada was ours. We owned it. We occupied it. We thrived in it. Today, we are far from the lofty place in which we used to be. We want to be where we used to be once - occupying our land."
Today, the indigenous nations own less than half of one percent of Canada, he added.
"We see what you have accomplished," he said. "It is a lesson for us. We strive for identity and we want to reclaim our land - not all of Canada, but the land that we need to survive and thrive."
Referring to Israel's battle for independence and acceptance, Fontaine said, "We've come to see the struggle that you engaged in to secure your identity and your land and what you had to do to maintain your special place in the world, which mirrors the mighty struggle we've engaged in."
Recalling the period of the British Mandate, Barrow said, "When the British left Israel, they gave the land back to the Israelis. When they left India, they gave the land back to the Indians. When they left South Africa, they gave the land back to the South Africans. We in North America have not had that particular run of luck, and we're not likely to at any time soon. We strive for the same recognition as Israel in the world. We have many similarities."
While Katsav was not in the position to comment on their request for diplomatic ties, he made the point that Jews were able to return to their ancestral homeland after 2000 years of exile because they had maintained the heritage which united them.
"I call on you to keep your heritage and revive your language," he said.
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