Interview with Ryan Bellerose: Native American Rights Activist, Israel Supporter
I met Ryan Bellerose on Israel and Stuff, a pro-Israel Facebook page. He’s always come across as an extremely positive, well-meaning guy with a lot to say. I recently saw a post about Ryan’s attempts to sway Canadian Native Americans to side more with Israel instead of giving in to pressure by Arab advocacy demonizing our country. I felt he did a very good job of “explaining” Israel–perhaps a better job than I could have done.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Ryan. Here is what he had to say:
Me: Please tell me about yourself: Where were you born? Where do you live today? What do you do for a living?
Ryan: I was born in a town called High River Alberta in southern Alberta. My father was down here working and my mother came to visit him for Christmas. I was born almost 2 weeks later. I grew up in the far north for most of my childhood, in a place called Paddle Prairie Metis Settlement. It’s just south of a town called High Level. Today I live in Calgary, the largest city in Alberta. I work for a large telecom company in the business department.
Me: What’s the connection between Native Americans and Jews/the State of Israel?
Ryan: That’s a very complex question because there are so many commonalities between our peoples. We are both warrior people who revere life, and in warrior cultures, thats actually quite rare. Our cultures both place a very spiritual connection to our ancestral lands and maintain reverence for our holy sites. I also find that Jews are extremely funny and adaptable, and something that Metis people take great pride in is our ability to not only survive but to also enjoy life while doing it. I believe that Israel is a great example of what indigenous people can do with the right education and drive, and I also think that your people underwent a horrific event in the middle of the last century and managed to come through it, if not unscathed, unbowed and unbroken.
Me: When did you start becoming interested in Israel? Why do you think Israel is right and the Arabs/Palestinians are wrong?
Ryan: When I was a very small child, my father bought me some encyclopedia Britannica’s. I pretty much read them all at once one winter, but the entry on Israel just resonated with me. When I was still quite young, I watched as my father fought and negotiated with the government in Canada and I felt that Israel’s story was much like our own , and pardon the pun, but a real “David vs. Goliath” story. My people fought a rebellion against the Canadian government and while we didn’t win, we didn’t really lose until we made the mistake of trusting the local government to keep its word.
I don’t actually think Palestinians are wrong, but that they are poorly led. They have rights of longstanding presence and they have been treated badly. However I do take issue with the way they literally try to steal Jewish identity as indigenous people and I despise the way they celebrate death and use the deaths of children as propaganda. I don’t think they have ever negotiated in good faith because they understand the size disparity between Israel and the entire Muslim world and assume Israel will eventually be destroyed. I am glad that they are wrong. I believe that anyone who is moral, ethical and rational should support the Middle East’s only actual democracy that respects human rights, and while Israel may not be perfect, it attempts to be, and is far more inclusive than my own country is.
Me: What kinds of things have you been doing to project your message to others?
Ryan: I have written articles and spoken with Native leaders (actual leaders and not just chiefs and councils who usually are nothing more than Indian act puppets who do whatever the government tells them since the government controls the money). I have gotten involved with Native rights in Canada very heavily because in my belief system, all indigenous rights are important because they are HUMAN rights, therefore our struggles are interconnected. Israel is very important because its being dehumanised and delegitimised by colonists, and some people don’t realize that by denying the indigenous status of the Jewish people, we are actually attacking the rights of indigenous people everywhere.
If we accept that there is, in fact, a timeline, a statute of limitations on being indigenous so-to-speak, then we accept that this is true for us as well. I refuse to allow that. I am heavily involved with CUWI, a local Israel advocacy group and they have gotten very heavily involved in several fo my charitable causes, donating time, money and effort to flood relief on the reserves here, charitable food drives and things of that nature. This is great because they do it without campaigning just because it’s the right thing to do. This, in turn, makes it easier for me to build bridges between our peoples. When I see these “Pro-Palestinians” showing “solidarity” its always by showing up at an event and preaching their own causes.
The truth is that because Israel is in the right, and it’s very easy for me to debunk the lies and half truths of the Palestinians narrative.
Me: What are you plans for the future? Do you plan on visiting Israel?
Ryan: I am looking at trying to find some way to do this work full time. I’m not worried about making money because I’m comfortable, but I find my job less and less rewarding. Eventually, I would like to be able to work to advance the causes of indigenous solidarity and human rights for all humans, especially in the Middle East and in Canada. I am working with some people to take some influential Native leaders to Israel with me so that they can help me fight the infestation of Pro-Palestinians in our movement. It’s very damaging to have those people constantly co-opting our struggle. And by taking actual grassroots leaders with me, I can teach them and show them why this is so important. They are very intelligent people and have spoken to me about this and they are interested, so the time is right.
I am planning to come to Israel soon. I have some friends there whom I am really excited to meet. They have helped me help my own people as well as advocate for Israel, and have taught me much more effective ways to advocate. I am also obsessed with history and sacred sites, so naturally, I am really excited to see places that I have read about and have seen only in my mind’s eye. I am also going to be scouting for a youth exchange because I want the next generation of advocates for my people to have a connection to Israel so that they can speak to the haters with authority. I was planning on coming this summer but I have been ill and had to take some time off work, which resulted in me spending money I had saved, but I have a decent job so once I’m back at work, and it wont take me long to save up again.
Anyway, thank you very much for your time! I know you support Israel very strongly and I am grateful for that. My friend, Einat says there is a saying “G-d willing, next year in Jerusalem.” I certainly hope this will be the case for me!