As I write, the season’s first snow is falling in the November night. It is cold and the streets are empty. Downstairs, Jennie is cooking for tomorrows feast. I’m taking a few minutes to write as tomorrow promises to be very busy, being Thanksgiving Day here in the US. Given the news this week from around the country, it will be a troubled day for many. Thanksgiving Day itself has a troubled history, or rather multiple histories. Yet we continue to gather with family and friends on the last Thursday in November to celebrate the harvest and express gratitude to the Creator.
I have written a blog post on Thanksgiving Day for the past several years. I need to acknowledge the complexity of this day, to disturb the waters on which it rests. The popular view of the day is that the Indigenous people of New England, and North America, welcomed the colonists and joined them to celebrate their first harvest. Another story, probably closer to the truth, is it celebrates the Native people who taught the first colonists to survive in this harsh New World. Yet another, largely ignored, story is the day originally celebrated the murders of hundreds of Native people in response to the death of one Colonist. To some degree each of these stories caries truth, although the first is probably least accurate.
Earlier I was on Twitter. The dominant conversation was about the racism and violence of Ferguson. A second theme was the growing Indigenous resistance to the destruction of our tribal lands, and all of Turtle Island. A third strand was violence against women, especially Native women and women of color; yet another strand was the growing governmental abandonment of people with disabilities. Still another was violence against transgendereds and two-spirits. There was also a fierce debate about which group is most oppressed, and therefore is privileged to speak. All others are to remain silent.
That discussion misses the painful fact that all of us in these groups are subject to one colonial enterprise or another. How is one to seriously critique the many faces and dehumanizing strategies of colonialism and late capital if one is forced to single out one oppressed group? Indeed, preserving such divisiveness is a strong suit of the colonial endeavor. Is it not true that each of the above Thanksgiving narratives becomes most informative when viewed as part of a larger story? Doesn’t the loss of any strand in the narrative greatly diminish the whole?
This is not to argue that all groups are equally oppressed. Clearly this is not the case. One can, I believe, argue that persons and groups who are clearly “other” are more at risk for both direct and indirect harm. Yet to only focus on those groups is to miss the overarching terror utilized to divide, marginalize, and silence all of the groups. How are we to lead rich lives if we understand them to be good only to the extent they are less terror filled than those of others? Might we instead build coalitions of shared need that hold space for complex, interconnected stories?
I was taught by my elders that all ideologies and behaviors that deny basic dignity to people are to be challenged, that all forms of dehumanizing violence are inherently wrong. I was encouraged to remember that the founding of the US was firmly rooted in institutionalized, government sanctioned violence. From the kidnapping of Africans to be used as slaves, to the carefully planned genocide against Native people, those founding the new country were committed to terrorizing and destroying whole peoples in order to enrich themselves and their allies. Sadly, more than two hundred years later, this ideology has found new, fertile ground in both the US and Canada.
While the influence of Greed continues to grow, so does our shared commitment to challenging its authority and influence. Showing gratitude for our lives is one way to do this, a path that lies at the very heart of much Indigenous teaching. We are, after all, guests here on the Earth, held in the loving embrace of Pachamama. We are each and every one a part of the vast mystery of life, each precious, invaluable. When all beings are embraced as sacred, the world becomes a holy place. Let us open our hearts to one another. Let us tell the truths that challenge the myths of our culture, and in so doing, create the possibility of a profound renewal. Let us hold one another, and this beautiful world we are graced to visit, sacred.