Quoting from a former student who 'gets it':
"Day of mourning today. Neo Nazis are taking over this country. We're abusing and maiming peaceful protesters in Standing Rock. No one is giving a shit about the water in Flint. Hate crimes are on the rise. Ya, fuck this country. Fuck Thanksgiving. Let it all burn."
I don't blame her sentiments and expression. Right now, there is a lot of bullshit going on in this lovely American landscape. And I'm sure if you're like me, your relatives have been banned from talking politics at the holiday meal this year. With the alt-right/Neo Nazi/white supremacy movement growing and the shit that is happening at Standing Rock with Sioux native people is atrocious (but more on that in a minute). Let's first talk about the shady history behind Thanksgiving. Let's also think on how ironic it is that this year, as we do have things to be thankful for, we also have some major hypocrisy going on, especially when it comes to native people.
And know that a group called The United American Indians of New England see Thanksgiving as a 'day of mourning'. Natives who participate in this long standing ceremonious ritual have put a KKK sheet on a statue of William Bradford. They have also buried Plymouth rock because it is viewed as a symbol of bigotry and racism. Kisha James, a 17 year old says that though she is proud to take part, she often lies about what she's doing because she doesn't want to explain why she is doing something different since doing what everyone else does (ie. eating a family dinner) is much easier to explain. This year's organizers wrote this statement, "Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture...Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today." This information is sourced from an article by Carla Javier from Fusion titled 'Why These Native Americans are Spending Thanksgiving Marching Marching and Mourning, not Celebrating'.
So truly, as you sit down at your family Thanksgiving table, please take a minute to think about the injustice and genocide that has happened to natives of this land. The original story about Thanksgiving taking place in a beautiful New England fall with red and orange leaves in the backdrop while natives and Pilgrims sit down and break bread with each other, so to speak. Well, that story is complete horseshit. Just read Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, one of my favorite books of all time. After reading this at age 16, my view of American history changed and suddenly I was interested in social justice and getting at the 'truth' of what happened in American history rather than the watered down version most children/teenagers get in school.
Little do people know, there were hundreds of tribes living and flourishing in North America before settlers came to decimate the population with disease. Actually according to Loewen, there was not much disease in North America, prior to colonization/trade. It all began in Southern New England when French and British fishermen introduced diseases like smallpox, influenza, and viral hepatitis. In three years, 90 to 96 percent of the coastal New England native population was dead. Before this point, natives did not have a high amount of disease and it is believed this is because they actually bathed (unlike the European settlers) and practiced basic hygiene. I'm sure when settlers arrived, they smelled like shit, literally (Loewen, 69)*.
So when colonizers came in full force, native populations were doomed. Most of us know the story of how native populations were duped with blankets covered in smallpox and because of dips in population made it hard to fight off the settlers. In fact, disease only helped the settlers take land (that wasn't there's) and sew the roots of this great, modern country of ours. How fucked up is that?
I would say not as fucked up as what most likely happened during the first Thanksgiving.
Here is a video spelling out the myths about Thanksgiving:
Additionally, according to an article from 2010 on The Huffington Post by Richard Greener*, the story of romantic story of Thanksgiving started after World War I, a time when minorities (African Americans, Jews, immigrants) were being heavily discriminated against. In fact, the 1920's and 1930's was a time in American history when Eugenics, the (fake) 'science' of racial theory took hold and gained much popularity. By the way, Francis Galton, Darwin's cousin was the great genius behind Eugenics and it's this theory that fueled thoughts of Hitler and the Nazi party in Europe. But I digress.
Back to Thanksgiving. Loewen states, "Throughout the nation every fall, elementary school children reenact a little morality play, the First Thanksgiving, as our national origin myth, complete with Pilgrim hats made out of construction paper and Indian braves with feathers in their hair" (Loewen, 84). Who doesn't remember doing this? Tracing your hand, and making a turkey? Or singing 'Ten Little Indians'? This kind of shit churns my stomach.
And actually, native people were celebrating a fall harvest festival/meal for years/generations. American didn't even consecrate Thanksgiving as the holiday we know and love until 1863 when Lincoln needed to promote patriotism and loyalty during the Civil War. Pilgrims were left out of the story until the 1890's (Loewen, 86). Greener states that Thanksgiving occurred in 1637, and the governor of Massachusetts Colony, John Winthrop wanted to celebrate the safe return of colonial murders who had just killed over 700 Pequot natives in Connecticut. They killed men, women, and children. Actually, to this day a group called the United American Indians of New England meet at Plymouth rock to 'mourn'. But what are they mourning you ask? The loss of their culture, the decimation of their people and traditions, the rampant alcoholism and suicide that exists on most reservations. But we all sit around eating pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes not giving much thought to this narrative.
Now let's jump to 2016 to Standing Rock. The problem is reminiscent of an issue in the 1970's that came up. Wanting the natural resources under the land of the Pine Ridge Reservation, the US government go intelligent forces involved to hijack the land that the Sioux would not give up. There was a standoff between FBI and natives and one, Leonard Peltier got blamed for shooting two FBI agents. Read his book 'Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance' (a book I had students read in my literature of human rights class.) I also recommend the documentary Incident at Oglala from 1992, narrated by Robert Redford (which you can buy on Youtube for $2.99).
Leonard Peltier is still in jail in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He makes a lot of art, however. I have been lucky to see one of his paintings close up. But I digress again. A similar story to that of Pine Ridge is happening right now at Standing Rock. Laura Bassett wrote an article for The Huffington Post describing, again, the hypocrisy of what is unfolding at Standing Rock and Thanksgiving. If you've been under a rock, there have been native and non-natives protesting the construction of an oil pipeline through native land. I have had friends go to Standing Rock and protest. I would too if I had the opportunity.
Last Sunday night, 300 protesters were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons while protesting in sub-freezing cold. Around 26 people were taken to the hospital with hypothermia, eye trauma, internal bleeding, and severe head/limb wounds. The arguments for the construction of this pipeline say that oil will be safely transported from North Dakota to Illinois. However, it also costs $3.7 billion. What you aren't being told is that this same pipeline will cut underneath the Missouri River only a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. So not only would a treaty made in 1851 be broken, where Sioux native people were promised this land, but their water would also be contaminated. I mean, the Flint Water Crisis is continually ignored so why not poison the water of natives living on Standing Rock Reservation? We ignore the plight and poverty of American Indians every single day.
A friend just posted this:
In case you may not have known: people are likely to start dying at Standing Rock-- if they aren't already:
The Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council released this statement: “The physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council call for the immediate cessation of use of water cannons on people who are outdoors in 28F ambient weather with no means of active rewarming in these conditions. As medical professionals, we are concerned for the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”
Not to mention continuous mass tear gas, rubber bullets, as well as stinger grenades and LRAND (Long Range Acoustic Device) for 3 hours
Law enforcement also shot down three media drones and targeted journalists with less lethal rounds.
National Lawyers Guild legal observers on the frontlines have confirmed that multiple people were unconscious and bleeding after being shot in the head with rubber bullets. One elder went into cardiac arrest at the frontlines but medics administered CPR and were able to resuscitate him. The camp’s medical staff and facilities are overwhelmed and the local community of Cannonball has opened their school gymnasium for emergency relief.
PLEASE CALL THE FOLLOWING AGENCIES NOW:
ND Office of the Governor: 701-328-2200.
Morton County Sheriff's Department:
701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330.
ND National Guard: 701-333-2000
202 224.2043 call the senator of North Dakota
Call often, please.
So while you are eating sweet potato pie and stuffing, please give a thought to what is going on around us. We are living in scary times, and though I do not advocate getting up in arms about the intolerance and bigotry that has infected many an American mindset at the dinner table and get into a fight with Uncle Leroy about voting for Trump, I do advocate standing up for social justice issues. Perhaps what we are seeing is the unfolding of karmic justice to America. I think of the film Koyaanisqatsi, a film with no set plot. It was made in 1982 and directed by Godfrey Reggio; it is visuals that have their own abstract plot set to music by Phillip Glass. The title of the film translates to 'life out of balance'.
The visuals begin with cave paintings (assumed to be native drawings) and visuals of landscapes in America. It quickly shifts to showing modern urban life (circa the early 80's) and you see how crazy and fucked up the arbitrary system we've built truly is.
The last piece of the film tells us that the word 'Koyaanisqatsi' is from the Hopi language.
The next sequence translates a Hopi Prophecy:
I don't know what will happen to America, but one thing is for sure and that is our society's fabric is unraveling at the seams and we are literally starving/eating our own body's flesh. Greed, power, ego has made our society Anorexic and Bulimic simultaneously and it is only time before our time is up.
I'll leave you with this native quote/thought:
1. Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me. The New Press: New York, 1995.
2. Greener, Richard. 'The True Story of Thanksgiving'. The Huffington Post. 11/25/2010. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-greener/the-true-story-of-thanksg_b_788436.html.)
3. Bassset, Laura. 'On Thanksgiving Week, Native Americans are Being Tear-Gassed in North Dakota'. 11/23/2016
4. Javier, Carla. 'Why These Native Americans are Spending Thanksgiving Marching Marching and Mourning, not Celebrating'. 11/24/16.