First published on Times of Israel

While Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, for indigenous peoples, living in close connection with the environment and being caretakers of the land is part of the culture, hence Māori are called tangata whenua, people of the land.

A special event organized by a Māori tribe in the north of Aotearoa New Zealand to welcome the new Israeli Ambassador also provided a unique opportunity to mark Earth Day.

The two indigenous peoples exchanged trees native to their lands as a mark of the deepening friendship between the northern iwi Ngapuhi and Israel. The olive tree embued with spiritual significance and symbolizing continuity and peace, was gifted to Ngapuhi to be planted on their sacred land. In turn, Israel Ambassador Ran Yaakoby was given a native kauri tree, traditionally used for the ocean-going waka.

Led by Ngapuhi kaumatua Pat Ruka, the gathering was the culmination of a series of hui between Ngapuhi and the Israeli embassy. The first was held at Hoani Waititi Marae, Auckland in 2017 as an apology for the New Zealand government’s role in co-sponsoring the anti-Israel UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

This historic event was held at Waitangi where the Treaty between Māori and the British government was signed in 1840. On this occasion, many Māori came from around the country, including representatives of significant Māori movements Kingitanga, Ratana and Ringatū churches. Their cooperation with Ngapuhi lent a powerful sense of unity.

The Israeli flag flew on the Marae alongside the national Māori flag, the United Tribes flag and the NZ Flag.

Video: Ylia and Meg Trotter

A full gallery of images can be viewed here.