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הַכָּרָת רִבּוֹנוּת הָאָרֶץ | Indigenous Land Acknowledgment for Cincinnati, Ohio, by Aharon Varady (2021)

Hebrew English


לְשֵׁם יִחוּד קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וּשְׁכִינְתֵּיהּ,
בִּדְחִילוּ וּרְחִימוּ, וּרְחִימוּ וּדְחִילוּ,
לְיַחֲדָא שֵׁם יוֹ״ד הֵ״י בְּוָא״ו הֵ״י בְּיִחוּדָא שְׁלִים
בְּשֵׁם כׇּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל
For the sake of the unification of the blessed Holy one and their Presence,
with reverence and compassion, and compassion and reverence
to unite the yud-hey and the vav-hey (of the Tetragrammaton) in inseparable unity
in the name of all Yisrael.

הִנְנִי מוּכָן וּמְזוּמָּן \ מוּכָנָה וּמְזַמֶּנֶת
לְקַיֵּם אֶת מִצְוַת לִרְדֹּף צֶדֶק
כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתֶיךָ
צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף
לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ׃ (דברים טז:כ)
Here we are, ready and prepared
to observe the mitsvah of pursuing righteousness/justice,
as written in your Torah,
“Justice, Justice shall you pursue
that you may live and inherit the land
that Hashem your elo’ah is permitting to you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

וּלְקַיֵּם אֶת מִצְוַת שְׁמִירַת הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת אַדַּמְתָּהּ
כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתֶיךָ
וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְיָ֥ אֱלֹקִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם
וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעׇבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָֽהּ׃ (בראשית ב:טז)

and to observe the mitsvah of preserving the Land and its fertile-earth,
as written in your Torah,
“Hashem Elohim took the Earthling/humanity
and set them in the Garden of Eden, to tend and preserve it.” (Genesis 2:16)

וְהָאָרֶץ לֹא תִמָּכֵר לִצְמִתֻת
כִּי־לִי הָאָרֶץ
כִּי־גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים אַתֶּם
עִמָּדִי׃ (ויקרא כה:כג).
and as it is written:
“The Earth/land shall not be sold permanently
because the land is Mine,
since you are all immigrants and resident-settlers
according to Me.” (Leviticus 25:23).

וּבְדִבְרֵי נְבִיאֶיךָ כָּתוּב לֵאמֹר
וּנְטַעְתִּים עַל־אַדְמָתָם
וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם
אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם
אָמַר יְיָ אֱלֹקֶיךָ׃ (עמוס ט:טו).
and in the words of your prophets it is written saying:
“‘I will plant them on their fertile-earth
and they will no longer be removed from their fertile-earth
which I gave them’
said Hashem your elo’ah.” (Amos 9:15).

הַכָּרָת רִבּוֹנוּת הָאָרֶץ

This land and its fertile-earth
is the traditional territory
and sacred land
of numerous nations
the Shawnee, Miami, and Piankeshaw peoples.
It is now home to many diverse First Nations peoples.

We acknowledge that this land
upon which the city of Cincinnati was built
is covered by Cession 11 (Treaty of Greenville)[1] Concluded August 3, 1795. For the document, find the treaty here
a formal political treaty with the federal government of the United States of America
that was entered into by the Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa,
Chippewa, Potawatomi, Miami, Eel River,
Wea, Kickapoo, Piankeshaw, and Kaskaskia peoples
in the hope of achieving an enduring peace
and the survival of their people and culture
after centuries of conflict instigated by
Spanish, French, Dutch, and English colonial powers
and their proxy local settler governments, armies, and militias.

Though we as Jews have also suffered
from land displacement
and cultural displacement,
we acknowledge
the ways in which we,
as non-indigenous people in this land,
have benefited from colonialism,
former and ongoing,
which has grievously harmed, and harms, First Nations peoples.
We ask for their forgiveness.

This indigenous land acknowledgement was adapted by Aharon Varady from one compiled by Dr. Aurora Mendelsohn for her Mendelsohn/Kalikow Family Haggadah (2020), itself adapted from a Land Acknowledgment offered at the Kohenet service held at the Parliament of World Religions, Toronto, November 2018. It reads, “Jews of many backgrounds have experienced a sense of geographical and cultural displacement over the years. We acknowledge our history of displacement, and as importantly, we acknowledge the ways in which we as non-indigenous peoples and settlers have benefited from colonialism, former and ongoing which has hurt and oppressed First Nations peoples. We ask for your forgiveness at this time.” Territories and treaties obtained from the interactive map at https://native-land.ca, which covers Indigenous lands globally. For adapting this acknowledgement to your context, specify your location.

Dr. Mendelsohn’s kavvanah observes a mitsvah or commandment of “recognizing the sovereignty of the land.” I can imagine perhaps this relating to the mitsvah of bal tashḥit — not laying laying waste (or being wasteful) or even the commandment in the decalogue of “honoring your mother,” where the Earth is understood as our mother per Psalms 139:13-16. In my kavvanah, I situate the mitsvah first with Deuteronomy 16:20, to pursue justice, and then with the mitsvah given to Adam in Genesis 2:16, to tend to and preserve the Garden of Eden. In that tale and its midrashic expansion, Adam is created outside of the Garden, but placed inside as its caretaker. In the language of the Tanakh, all of humanity, in all of its diverse expression — all the nations — are planted in the earth — a profound agricultural metaphor. Adam, as the first earthling, immigrant, and caretaker is given responsibility to respect and concern themselves with the well-being of this great garden. But Adam is also a metaphor for humanity as a whole, and I understand this story such that we should be preoccupied with our collective well-being in this precious biosphere, as individual human beings part of collective human groupings, and as an interdependent species sharing rich, complex and interconnected ecologies with other species. I don’t want to extend the metaphor of the caretaker gardener too far for fear of its misuse. (A tidy garden with every root kept in check, every branch pruned, and every species kept within its designated plot, and all “weeds” eliminated likely appeals to the worst and most dangerous people.) I feel I’m on safe ground simply stating that the mitsvah of loving one’s fellow as oneself (Leviticus 19:17-18) is implicit here, and that the Torah constantly exhorts us not to see and take, but to temper our predatory impulses and pursue, yes, pursue justice (tsedeq tsedeq tirdof). Might does not make right and we must always take a principled stand against land theft regardless of any claim to indigeneity or divine inheritance. The history and pattern of the abuse of indigenous peoples worldwide, is one that argues for its recognition as particularly depraved. The economic, political, and other cultural assumptions at the root of this abuse, historical and ongoing, is worthy of our sober concern and action, especially in the places where we live, so that we may possibly mitigate, correct, and support the well-being of those people’s harmed in the development of those places we call our home.

We hope this land acknowledgement will continue to be developed and improved. How can we say “we acknowledge the ways in which we, as non-indigenous people in this land, have benefited from colonialism,” when these ways are not indicated? Detailing these ways is at the very least, an opportunity for an individual and group discussion, but in future iterations of the land acknowledgement, I’d like this section to be developed further. –Aharon Varady



1 Concluded August 3, 1795. For the document, find the treaty here.

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