Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Identifying with Israel’s Suffering, Native Americans Visit Jewish State

October 6, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Native Americans in the Israeli president’s sukkah were in full regalia — eagle feathers, turquoise and red beads, leather moccasins. Beating on drums, they chanted honor songs blessing the people of the Jewish state. By coming to Israel this week after a brief trip to Poland that included a visit to Auschwitz, a group from the First Nations Peoples, as they call themselves, sought to connect with the Jewish people, whom they see as sharing a similar history to their own.

“We feel like we have a connection with them in terms of what we have lost,” said Natalie Proctor, of Maryland’s Conoy people, whose Conoy name is “Standing on the Rock.”

“We have a similar history.”

Only about 2,000 members of the Conoy remain, said Proctor, 45. In the past they have wandered between Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland and were known historically as “A People Looking for a Home.”

Many of the Conoy were wiped out by an outbreak of smallpox that coincided with the arrival of European settlers in America.

Proctor, who works educating the public about the First Nations People, garnered the attention of Israelis young and old during Sukkot festivities at President Moshe Katsav’s official residence.

Her dark hair woven into two braids and long, beaded earrings dangling, she laughed when 16-year-old Doron Paris asked her, “How can I become an Indian? It looks cool.”

Proctor recently played the role of Pocahontas’ mother in a movie starring popular Irish actor Colin Farrell.

Lynda Price, grand chief of the Carrier-Sekani Nations of British Columbia, Canada, is the driving force behind this visit by 16 representatives of First Nations Peoples, who came from as far afield as Hawaii, Arizona and Costa Rica.

Price began bringing delegations here in 1998.

“I identified with the” Jewish “people because of the Holocaust, because of their suffering,”she said. She spoke of the painful assimilation policy of the Canadian government, which forced First Nations children to attend boarding schools where, she said, the government worked to stamp out their culture.

She said that by coming to Israel she and the others want to project their kinship with the Jewish state. “We wanted to send a message that Israel is not alone, not everybody hates them,” she said.

En route to Israel, the group spent several days in Poland, fasting with the Jewish community there on Yom Kippur, studying Jewish texts and visiting Auschwitz.

While at the site of the Nazi death camp, they danced and chanted traditional songs of mourning just as they would on their own ancestral burial grounds.

“When we pray, we dance our prayers,” Price said.

While in Israel the group performed for children at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, met with victims of terror attacks and took part in Sukkot celebrations.

“I wanted to help bring joy to Israeli people and show solidarity with them,”said Julie Hill, 29, a member of the Cherokee nation from the Washington area.

Katsav was delighted by the Native Americans’ visit. He danced along when they performed for him and smiled as the group gathered around him for a photograph.

“This is an expression of world unity,” Katsav said.

Recommended from JTA