On a journey through Israel as ambassadors from their tribe to the Jewish state, a Native American couple are connecting with the land, local believers and another “indigenous people.”
Chief Joseph RiverWind and Laralyn RiverWind, N.D., the tribal spokesperson of the Northern Arawak Tribal Nation, spoke with KNI earlier this month about their experiences in Israel and their support of the Jewish state.
Laralyn said that seeing Jewish settlement of Israel “really speaks to the heart of the native people: We are blessed to see indigenous people returning to their land.”
This isn’t the first time that First Nations elders have come to Israel. In 1999, a delegation of Native Americans came here to foster diplomatic relations with Israel. Now, encouraged by their elders to continue the mandate, the RiverWinds, along with others, are building upon the foundation of friendship laid by the last generation.
While in Israel, the RiverWinds are volunteering, supporting and meeting with Holocaust survivors and, as they are both professional musicians on Native American instruments, had a concert with Messianic artist Joshua Aaron, featuring a song they co-wrote in memory of terror victims.
Many Native Americans relate to the Palestinian cause and see Israel as the oppressors, the RiverWinds noted.
“Our hope is to relay the message: Israel is a tribal people who have been restored to their original homeland, the land promised to them by the Creator,” Laralyn said. “The native people need that story of restoration to their homeland.”
Native Americans comprise just 1 percent of the American population and of them, just 1 percent are believers. Nevertheless, the RiverWinds believe it is their duty to educate their people about the parallels between their own situation and the issue of native land and the Jews who are indigenous here.
“As First Nations People, in spite of a lot of the (pro-Palestinian) propaganda hitting America, there are many of us who see a hope in what is being played out here – because the Creator doesn’t break his promises,” Joseph said.
“You can’t rewrite history. You can’t change the archaeological evidence,” he continued. “That is over 3,000 years old.”
It’s an uphill battle though for the hearts and minds of young people in their tribes. A U.S. congressional resolution was passed enabling free trade between companies in Turkey and Native Americans. Students could even be eligible for scholarships to Turkish universities, where anti-Israel propaganda no doubt continues.
Messianic stream of faith
Despite the fact that their faith and support of Israel may be somewhat unpopular and perhaps even controversial among Native Americans, the RiverWinds note many commonalities between Jewish and Native American customs.
“For example, we had cities of refuge, we didn’t eat swine, we celebrated seven festivals a year and the new moon and had a seventh day of rest,” Laralyn said, referring to her tribe, Cherokee.
The Cherokee also built booths, called arbors, for one of the festivals (similar to the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot) and carried an ark into battle.
More similarities include another tribe called, Tzitzitza, which means “people of the fringe” and sounds like tzittzit, the fringe or tassels worn by observant Jews. Another tribe is called Shoshoni, whose national symbol is a rose, strikingly similar to the Hebrew word for rose, shoshan.
One of the main names for God in Cherokee tradition is Yohaywa. Also, the Anikituwahyah tribe means The Principle People of Yah. One of the tribe’s pre-missionary stories passed on from generations included building a large canoe to avoid the flood.
Joseph was born and raised in Puerto Rico in Las Indieras (which means the Indian lands). The mountainous region is populated by the Taino tribe and is considered the indigenous capital of the island. He has Sephardic heritage through both his mother’s and father’s sides and remembers his grandmother sang Jewish songs in Ladino. Some of his most prized possessions are his family heirloom Cephers from the 1800s. He has photographs of his relatives celebrating bar mitzvahs and other Jewish customs.
Laralyn is a descendent of the Cherokee and Muskogee tribes and also has Celtic, Irish and Scottish blood. Her tribal and personal customs in many ways also reflect biblical and Jewish traditions.
Joseph proffered possible reasons for the similarities. The customs could have been gleaned along ancient transcontinental trade routes. Or the native people could be descended from Jews who were scattered far from the Middle East.
The RiverWinds run a ministry called FireKeepers International and a congregation,
FireKeepers Fellowship near the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
The couple is documenting their time in Israel including restaurants and sites they visit for a program that will be aired on Now You See TV, their Youtube channel and on Facebook.
“We are trying to offset the negative anti-Israel propaganda,” Joseph said.
Laralyn added, “We are seeking a spiritual encounter with Hashem (a Hebrew name for God, literally The Name). We are seeking to understand and know the people and sites of the land.”