Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving From a Native American Perspective is Nothing to Celebrate

First Fun Thanksgiving, after J.L.G. Ferris

Like with my other Thanksgiving posts, this one has been published before. In fact, republishing the same Thanksgiving posts is becoming somewhat of a holiday tradition for me in it's own right.

Yet, this year, there is something different. This year, we are watching the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in North Dakota, many of whom are Native Americans, and the pipelines themselves run through traditional, sacred burial grounds for Native Americans.

It is really disgraceful, the methods being employed in order to test their will. Just a couple of days ago, water was sprayed on some of the peaceful protesters, in subfreezing temperatures! One woman apparently almost lost her arm, and had to be airlifted out, because the roads were closed by local police. Dogs were brought in months ago, biting and tearing into the peaceful protesters, in scenes that were reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's. Perhaps this is fitting, given the obvious racial tensions and issues that this election year of 2016 so highlighted, with everything from the recent police shootings and beatings that have been caught on tape, to the election win of a man who made racist statements and had no problems being the great white hope for the alt right. 

So for this Thanksgiving, as we sit at our tables and hope to avoid political conversations with in-laws who hold views that we hope to to hear for dinner, let us remember that Native Americans not only do not celebrate this holiday, but look at it as a reminder of the long line of betrayals that led to their downfall, and our modern society's takeover. It is thus quite ironic that Native American (and other) protesters are being treated so harshly trying to defend their land and protect drinking water, while we collectively will be seated inside comfortably and stuffing ourselves after giving thanks, before going out to camp out for the night so that we can grab the best deals on the latest cell phones and other electronics, or whatever else people seem to covet. Let us recognize that this world seems in far greater danger now than it did during Thanksgiving a year ago, with two huge election results that seemed to run counter to the idea of progress, and with confirmed reports that climate change is accelerating not only at a faster pace than previously experienced, but that we will be seeing the effects soon enough - all while a climate change denier is preparing to take office.

I remember first rearing Ward Churchill explaining why he was not going to celebrate Thanksgiving many years ago, and it opened my eyes about this holiday. I have asked some Native Americans about it, and they made clear - crystal clear - they they never, ever celebrate on Thanksgiving. The origins that are commonly believed are mere myth, and the reality is far less flattering. Yes, I know this is depressing, but it is true history. Still, the holiday has grown into something bigger, and there are positive aspects to it. And I, for one, have always celebrated with family. Still, understanding the history and the controversy behind it is something worth keeping in mind, and we should understand and appreciate why natives not only do not celebrate, but feel that it represents a betrayal of their culture and their ancestors in a very real sense.

As I mentioned in my last couple of posts, Thanksgiving today has a certain beauty to it, a nobility of spirit with that increasingly rare purity of intentions. It seems relatively benign, although that purity is increasingly compromised by the sales of Black Friday, which has become a sort of madness that has overtaken both consumers and retailers combined. The doors opened their doors sooner and sooner, so that they went from opening at ridiculous, overnight hours, and now are opening their doors on Thanksgiving itself, right in the afternoon.

I mentioned in one of those earlier posts that one of my coworkers at my relatively new weekend job works at Walmart, and they are forcing all of their employees to come in on Thanksgiving afternoon proper. So, Black Friday is already now starting on Thursday afternoon, on Thanksgiving itself, which detracts from the very notion of being truly thankful for what we have. Personally, going out to the stores to do some shopping is the last thing that I want to do on Black Friday, and I try to avoid it like the plague. It brings the worst out in people. Thanksgiving is supposed to be a refreshing break from that, but apparently no longer.

Now, we will begin to hear horror stories of excess greed and a certain madness right on Thanksgiving itself, unfortunately. Perhaps it is fitting, since consumerism is what this society care about the most, if we are honest with ourselves. After all, one of the lesser known aspects of the history of Thanksgiving was, simply, that the tradition actually started the day after a massacre of Native Americans by the Pilgrims, when Governor of Massachusetts William Bradford wanted to honor the day by marking the date as something that should be celebrated well into the future. Thus, the tradition dates back to the massacre of the Pequots, and their essential removal from New England during the Pequot War in the 17th century. These are the words he specifically uttered in hopes of establishing a holiday of giving thanks for what he saw as a hard-won victory over natives (even while what was actually described sounds a whole lot more like a ruthless massacre):

“For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.” 

Is it not completely understandable that Native Americans refuse to celebrate?

So, it seemed appropriate on this day to present a very different angle of this holiday, by the perspective of the native people themselves. Here are a few links to articles from natives about Thanksgiving, in order to gain a deeper and truer appreciation of what it truly represents to them:

Thanksgiving, Hope and the Hidden Heart of Evil  by Jacqueline Keeler 11/26/14:

6 Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know  Vincent Schilling 11/28/13:

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story  Michelle Tirado 11/22/11:

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