Monday, June 23, 2008

New bonds between Canada's native and Jewish communities

New bonds between First Nations, Jews

Anti-Semitic rants of former Assembly of First Nations chief leads to new understanding

Chris Cobb, Canwest News Service-Published: Monday, June 23, 2008

OTTAWA -The anti-Semitic rants of former Assembly of First Nations chief David Ahenakew six years ago have produced a bonding between Canada's native and Jewish communities, leaders of both groups said Sunday.
Ahenakew, now 74, was stripped of his Order of Canada for promoting hatred against Jews and convicted in 2005 for offences arising from the comments. His first conviction was overturned and he now faces re-trial in November.
Current First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine spoke at the Canadian Jewish Congress annual meeting in Ottawa Sunday and praised the organization for supporting the efforts that produced the Harper government's apology last week for institutionalized abuse and discrimination that occurred in the residential school system.
Since the Ahenakew outburst, in which the native leader called Jews a "disease," blamed them for starting the Second World War and said Adolf Hitler was right when he "fried" six million Jews, Fontaine and a First Nations delegation have visited Israel. During another official trip earlier this year, a delegation of First Nations women studied female empowerment and capacity building at the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre in Haifa.
A group of Canadian Jewish leaders will visit reserves in Canada's north later this year.
Fontaine said the Jewish and First Nations people have discovered they have lots in common.
"We have suffered from the same experiences in terms of discrimination and racism," he said. "It's in the best interests of both communities to work together. The June 11 apology is very much about hope and reshaping Canada so everyone can be treated fairly. But most important it's about reconciliation."
Using the experience that led to the restoration of Hebrew from ancient, obsolete language to the official language of Israel, the Jewish community is actively helping native communities restore their dying languages. Only three out of more than 50 native languages are now in common use.
"We believe we can apply the same techniques here in Canada to retrieve indigenous languages," said Fontaine.
In the aftermath of the Ahenakew affair, the First Nations leaders stood "shoulder to shoulder" in support of the Jewish community, said Canadian Jewish Congress Chief Executive Officer Bernie Farber Sunday.
"David Ahenakew was one person," he said, "but the significance was in the response by Chief Fontaine and other First Nations people. It was an issue that got well resolved because of our very strong relationship."
The Jewish community have an empathy for First Nations people over the residential schools issue, added Farber.
"We understand what it means to have our children taken away," he said, "and while the comparison is a little different between the Holocaust and residential schools, the pain is the same - the pain of losing family and the pain of an attempted loss of culture is something we intrinsically understand."

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