Although there are Jews whose ancestors are indigenous to Turtle Island, also known as the Americas, most of us are wholly or partially descended from settlers on this land. The nuevo mundo to which Iberian Jews escaped from the Inquisition was indigenous land. The goldeneh medina, the Golden Land of opportunity imagined by Yiddish speaking European migrants, a place far from the pogroms sweeping through their cities and villages, was indigenous land. Africans brought to these lands in chains often forged alliances with indigenous people, and although Black people's ancestors came here against their will, the 40 acres promised to emancipated slaves during reconstruction was indigenous land. As immigrants came to these continents from all over the world, the places we landed were all indigenous lands taken from indigenous people through extreme, genocidal violence. Most of the immigrants coming to the United States from Mexico and Central America are indigenous peoples displaced by the plunder of their homelands. The caging of immigrant children in concentration camps along the US border is only the latest chapter of a long history of plundering the lands and lives of indigenous people throughout the Americas.
How do we live in integrity in the face of this reality? The first step is to acknowledge that all of us whose people came here from somewhere else, who, for reasons of war, economic injustice, natural disaster, colonialism, repression ended up here looking for a better shot, did so, whether we knew it or not, at the expense of indigenous people who are still here, still fighting for sovereignty and land rights and survival.
Worldwide, indigenous people are leading the global fight to protect the earth from ecological collapse because their cultures have retained knowledge of our relationships with our ecosystems, and our dependence on respecting and caring for the earth. This places them squarely in the path of extraction economies, corporations and their governments that are completely willing to commit genocide and ecocide in pursuit of profits. Defending the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples is also defense of our biosphere.
Rimonim seeks to build and strengthen Jewish solidarity with indigenous struggles, and to do so thoughtfully and respectfully, not only by sharing financial resources, but by learning the specific indigenous histories of the places where we live, building relationships with indigenous led organizations and projects, and doing the spiritual-emotional work of grieving our own lost lands, so we can be fully present as allies.
We also need to recognize and support the presence of indigenous Jews in our communities through explicit acknowledgement (including recognizing that many Latinx Jews are indigenous) and make sure Indigenous Jews are visible, heard and in leadership. There are numerous indigenous organizations and land projects we can get involved with and frontline communities facing serious threats, whose backs we need to get.
Right now, Pine Ridge Reservation is experiencing severe climate change impact combined with 75% unemployment and drastic cuts in federal funding. The Houma Nation in south Louisiana faces massive land loss to coastal erosion. Native Hawai'ians are protesting the construction of a massive telescope on sacred lands at Mauna Kea and many have been arrested. The Sogorea Te Land Trust, led by urban indigenous women in Oakland, California is facilitating the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands to indigenous stewardship and asking settlers to pay the voluntary Shuumi land tax to support it. (My synagogue does.)
This year Sukkot, a holiday that's all about our relationships to the earth, its gifts and our homes upon it, coincides with Indigenous People's Day, and Rimonim is working with Tzedek Chicago and Chi-Nations Youth Council to create a celebration that braids together our Jewish ties to land with indigenous sovereignty.