March 2, 2009, Updated September 13, 2012

The flag of friendship: Native American tribe, the Coushatta, has signed a bond of friendship with Israel. At first glance, there seems to be little in common between Israel and the 862 member Native American Coushatta Tribe, from Louisiana. But the tribe clearly thought otherwise.

They both have ancient languages, spoken by a minority, tribe members reflected. They have both struggled for sovereignty against suppressive forces, and they both have a deep respect for their ancestors.

With these similarities in mind, leaders of the tribe contacted the Israeli Consulate in Houston last year, extending their hand to the people of Israel, in an act of friendship.

“At the beginning we were perplexed,” Asher Yarden, consul general in Houston tells ISRAEL21c, when he got the message. But seeing that the tribe’s intentions were good, Yarden and a group of seven others from the consulate headed to the tribe’s village in Louisiana in November, where they were met as dignitaries, treated to colorful celebrations, a traditional Coushatta stomp dance, and flags from the State of Israel.

Friendship to deepen economic and cultural ties

While the unilateral “affirmation of friendship” is not an official document issued by the State of Israel, or signed by the consulate, it intends to be a symbol for how the Coushatta people and the Israelis wish to deepen economic and cultural ties. As far as Yarden knows, it is a first of its kind for the State of Israel.

Information technology, which Israel excels at, could be a sector for financial cooperation, but Yarden is waiting to see what will happen after the tribe visits Israel, hopefully in March.

“They are looking for opportunities, since they decided to develop this bond with Israel,” says Yarden. If and when co- development starts, it will be on projects that “benefit the tribe and Israel,” says Yarden.

“It is natural that we feel a connection to you and your people,” says Kevin Sickey, a chairman of the Coushatta Tribal Council. “You stand for the same fundamental principles and values upon which the sovereign nation of Coushatta was (founded): freedom and opportunity, justice and deep respect for your history and culture.”

There are four federally recognized tribes living in Louisiana – a total of 3,370 people. The Coushatta Tribe was recognized by the US government in 1973. With federal recognition, the tribe is allowed by US law to develop its own international interests. Sickey said that the friendship agreement with Israel was his tribe’s first international one.

At the celebration marking its friendship with Israel, tribal dancers kicked off the day with a traditional dance, where men and boys in feathered cowboy hats traced circular steps with women and girls in prairie-style outfits.

Celebrating Israel as an annual tribal event

Banners bearing both the Star of David and the Coushatta seal were affixed to power poles, and the schoolchildren from the tribe were permitted time off to greet the Israeli guests.

Like in the days of old, the tribal leaders signed the friendship agreement on a small wooden table, presenting it to Yarden and the Israeli delegation before the ceremonial stomp dancing began.

Says Yarden from his office in Houston: “They were as hospitable and generous and friendly as could be. They invited hundreds of people and the entire tribe took part in the festivities. They decorated the venue with flags of Israel and the Coushatta Tribe.”

The tribe now plans to celebrate May 14th – Israel’s Independence Day – annually, marking the day as one in which to honor Israel.

“This is one of these things that brings Israel beyond the conflict, and something that we’d like to do on a regular basis,” concludes Yarden.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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