Chief Joseph Riverwind, a leader of the Arawak Taino Nation and peace chief between tribal nations, and his wife, Dr. Laralyn Riverwind, who is ambassador-at-large for the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee, are working on an amazing project; establishing a Native American embassy in Jerusalem.
No less amazing is their personal story, linking them personally to the Nation of Israel.
Joseph describes the Arawak Taino Nation whose ancestral land is in Puerto Rico as the “tribe that welcomed Columbus”.
“We were the first tribal contact, the first one wants to be called Indian,” he said.
If they succeed in establishing a Native American Embassy in Israel, it will be the first embassy of its type in the world.
“The first Native American Embassy should be in Jerusalem,” Laralyn explained. “It’s all about being an indigenous nation and bringing together other indigenous nations in the Biblical homeland. And Jerusalem is the center of the universe.”
The vision of the embassy came to them about five years ago and they approached the tribal elders to ask for their advice.
“They told us that the idea of establishing an embassy has been in the hearts of indigenous people of the Americas at least since the 1900s,” Laralyn said. “The elders told us that it is an old idea but it will come to pass through us.”
The elders appointed Laralyn and Joseph as ambassadors of their respective tribes.
“We would like to see a First Nations embassy and our elders have told us we need to be open to actually allowing it to be more than just the First Nations,” Laralyn said. “It must be for all indigenous peoples. What we need to do is political and cultural. We want folks to come and hear the story. of the indigenous people from every country. Every person will have an understanding of indigeneity and how the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is such a story of hope.”
“That’s really what Jerusalem is supposed to be,” she said. “It’s not about religion. It’s about nations, about peoples.”
The Riverwinds explained that there is a deep connection between the Native Americans and the Jews. The tribal nations are inspired by the story of the Jewish people.
“The story of the Jewish people, the indigenous people of Judea, brings us hope,” Joseph explained. “For a tribal nation that has been able to return home, to their sacred sites, their culture, their tradition, their language.”
“The Jews are the indigenous people of Judea and you’ve finally come home,” Joseph said. “God created a promise, like a treaty, and that should not be broken. We’ve seen the return of your people to your ancient homeland, to your sacred sites. And the language has been restored and is being spoken once again. This is something we understand as indigenous people. This all came about because you kept your customs and traditions while being in exile, not in your homeland. And we see this as a huge beacon of hope for our people.”
“When indigenous people are returned to their land, like your people have been returned, it’s a real blessing to those of us who have had land taken and not restored,” Joseph said. “And when we as indigenous people celebrate other indigenous peoples being restored to their land, it builds hope. It’s encouraging really good medicine and it’s celebrating the boundaries the creator placed on the earth when he spoke about establishing the boundaries of the nations.”
The Riverwinds are actively educating other tribes about the Jewish nation and Israel.
“We’ve educated many people about the indigeneity of the Jewish people to the Holy Land, and about how there have been many wars fought to rip that land from your control,” Laralyn said. “You are a God-given authority over that land as the Jewish people. For that reason, we want to stand by you.”
Joseph emphasized the aspect of land as it related to national identity.
“I think that in our process of becoming civilized, our connection with the land has slowly diminished. God created nations and God made man from the earth. We have a connection to the land. There’s a reason why creators put the tribes in the lands and into territories. We need to stay connected to the land. Even putting on shoes severs our connection to the earth. You know, there’s a reason why we should get out and walk barefoot, every now and then it’s pretty healing. It’s therapeutic.
About five years ago, Joseph discovered something amazing about himself, connecting him personally to his mission of establishing an embassy in Jerusalem.
“I was not close with my father and was adopted by my grandparents when I was a baby,” he explained. “There was a lot of my own history that I didn’t know about.Shortly after my father passed away, I tried to get our family history squared away and began piecing together my family genealogy. I got a phone call from my grandmother’s youngest sister, my oldest living relative. She had mailed a package to my dad and she wanted to know if I still had it. I looked for it and found it packed away in a shed. It was a little box full of black and white photos showing scenes of Israel from about one hundred years ago . There were family pictures of Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish weddings taken in Israel, streets with people and desert in the background.”
“I also found two Jewish holy books from over one hundred years ago,” Joseph said. “They were from the library of my great-grandfather.”
“When we visited a synagogue, Joseph was singing along in Hebrew,” Laralyn said. “He told me that his grandmother was a non-practicing Catholic but these were the songs she sang around the home.”
Joseph did a DNA test and, unsurprisingly, it reported that he was mostly Native American. But he had quite a bit of Jewish Ancestry from Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands. He was able to find historical records showing that his family had gone through the Inquisition.
“It was my tribe that first gave a place of safety to the Sephardic Jews who were being persecuted by Spain,” Joseph said. “Our part of the island has the second oldest synagogue in the new world that is still in operation. And it was the Sephardic Jewish people who took our side and actually fought alongside us when we were persecuted by the Spaniards. This was because your people had come from the same type of persecution, and then they saw us going through it.”
The Riverwinds are also co-founders of FireKeepers International, a charitable organization committed to preserving and teaching indigenous and modern life skills, traditional holistic healing, feeding the hungry, and helping veterans through their healing process.