The authors, center, in the feathered headdress and white hat, at the opening of the Indigenous Embassy in Jerusalem on Feb. 1, 2024

Courtesy the authors

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The Indigenous Sovereignty Movement Called Zionism

Indigenous people and tribes unite in Jerusalem to recognize the historic successes of the Jewish state

Joseph and Laralyn RiverWind
April 02, 2024
The authors, center, in the feathered headdress and white hat, at the opening of the Indigenous Embassy in Jerusalem on Feb. 1, 2024

Courtesy the authors

#Indigenous, #Zionism, #LandBack, #Decolonize, #Tribal are words thrown around (sometimes in different circles) as badges of pride, accusations, labels, and identifiers. In the Middle East and on college campuses, these words collide like atoms in a superconductor.

“The Jewish people are colonizers who have settled in Palestine.”

“The Jews are colonizers.”

“Israel is a land called Palestine.”

“The Jews are occupying the West Bank.”

For the moment, let us focus on that first buzzword: indigenous. One noteworthy definition of “indigenous” is given by Ateret Shmuel of Indigenous Bridges, a nonprofit organization that builds bridges between Jewish people and other indigenous cultures worldwide. She states:

We define an indigenous nation as a nation [that] has an ethnogenesis within a specific land space. So[,] they came into existence as a people within a specific land who have historical ties to that land that predate colonial contact.

In a fact sheet released by the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a key identifying item listed among the modern understanding of the term “indigenous” is that the indigenous people “Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.”

Empowering the Jewish people to dwell safely in their ancestral sovereign land—this is Zionism. This is the essence of being indigenous.

Few people-groups accomplish this at the level of observant Jews, whose indigenous history in tightknit communities spans thousands of years. History recorded in Jewish writings over the centuries, as well as in the continuous accounts from neighboring nations, both friend and foe, attest to the existence of the Jewish tribes, their ties to the land of Israel, their origin in ancient Judea, their international commerce dealings, the devastating chronicle of wars, diplomatic relationships between countries, stories of kings, scholars, historians, and the existence of a powerful kingdom.

Language, geography, politics, and beliefs are all intimately connected to culture. We, the writers of this article, also postulate that indigeneity is linked to an element of the Divine—a sense of tribal belonging and geographical destiny, if you will—with the land to which a people is tied. Indigenous cultures worldwide typically have creation stories and narratives about how the tribe came to be in its land.

The Jewish people have one such story, concerning the creation of the boundaries of all of the nations of the world:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the children of men, He set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:8)

According to this, the number of Israelites defined not merely the borders of Israel; it was the determining factor for the boundaries of all the nations of the world.

However, if one subtracts the Divine from the equation of indigenous boundaries, then the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest can be plainly spotted in unbridled colonial imperialism. One culture looks at their neighbor’s land, covets it, assesses the neighbor as weaker, and decides to take it. Compound that with the prey tribe’s breach of treaty with their God, and there is a loss of land and freedom that comes as a result of a broken covenant.

During King Rehoboam’s reign, Israel experienced civil war, splitting into two kingdoms (Israel and Judea), which were conquered by foreign nations and taken into slavery, thus losing their land. Similar conquering scenarios played out repeatedly in the history of indigenous peoples. Yet, a modern false narrative is spun that the very victims of land theft are the perpetrators of colonialism. The irony is boundless.

Enemies of Israel purport that Jews are colonizers, not indigenous to the Holy Land. Our question is this: Where are the Jews indigenous to, if not Israel? This group of people worldwide holds commonalities in language, culture, beliefs, diet, traditional stories, sarcasm, talent, ingenuity, literature, and more. Did these all arise spontaneously and independently from within unrelated nations worldwide? Absurd.

Furthermore, another question: Does every people-group around the world have a place to which it is indigenous except the Jews? Of course not. The word Jew comes from Judah, son of Israel, a patriarch for whom the nation is named—long before Judea was renamed to “Palestine” in the fourth century by Roman conquerors.

A beautiful truth concerning the Jewish people is that a tenet of the founding principles (the Ten Words/Commandments) includes a command not to steal and not to covet what a neighbor owns. This includes property. By and large, the Jewish people have observed this principle, sticking to only wanting what their Deity entrusted to their nation. Jews do not lay claim to Iraq or Egypt. They do not engage in wars of conquest against their neighbors or seek to establish global empires.

Furthermore, the Jewish people—unlike some other groups—do not have a historical, worldwide effort to force-convert and proselytize the known universe into their faith, culture, fashion, and customs or to set up diaspora colonies in every possible country to force their Torah upon unassuming local indigenous tribes, overriding and usurping local legal law. To do so would have been to transgress into becoming colonizers.

We recognize the Jewish people as the indigenous people of Israel, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. More than that, Israel is the prime example of hope for other displaced indigenous tribes worldwide. Here is why: Israel stands as the original land-back and decolonization model multiple times in history. The Jewish people have kept a fire burning deep within their hearts even through the historical traumas of forced removals, conversions, crusades, torture, inquisitions, assimilation, and colonization by multiple empires. That inner fire speaks of an eternal promise of returning to the land of their ancestors and never again being removed. Moreover, when given the opportunity, many have returned to the place of their indigenous inception—Israel.

An ancient tribal people, the Jews, an entire nation taken hostage, enslaved, and scattered to the four directions on countless trails of tears, have been restored to the place of their origin, to the locations of their sacred places, to the land that holds their ancestors’ bones. Even the soil responds, blossoming and springing to life when its original caretakers walk upon it once again. This is the dream of any indigenous person: to return home to the land of their ancestors, to the origin place of their traditions, customs, beliefs, and language.

Empowering the Jewish people to dwell safely in their ancestral sovereign land, allowing them to self-govern as they protect their borders and people, ensuring they have charge of their own holy sites—this is Zionism. This is the essence of being indigenous.

Six years ago, in 2018, we had the vision of an indigenous embassy in Israel. While we first applied the vision to First Nations of North America, our elders later told us to expand our vision to a worldwide indigenous embassy for people all over the earth to support Israel’s declaration of indigeneity.

Now, the Indigenous Embassy of Jerusalem is a reality. It will celebrate Israel as her people, in the words of Rabbi Pesach Stadlin, “re-indigenize.” As the first nation to be restored to the boundaries of its original covenant land with the Creator, Israel stands as a beacon of hope not just to Jews around the globe but to all indigenous people—worldwide.

Click here to learn more about Indigenous Embassy Jerusalem and Indigenous Coalition For Israel.

Chief Joseph RiverWind is the appointed Peace Chief and Ambassador for the Arawak Taino Tribe of Puerto Rico. Dr. Laralyn RiverWind is the Ambassador-at-Large for the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee. Together, they are co-founders of FireKeepers International, a U.S.-based charitable organization.

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