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A day of thanks or a day of atonement?
A day of thanks or a day of atonement?
A day to give thanks? [written in 2003]
by Ward Churchill
Thanksgiving is the day the United States celebrates the fact that the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony successfully avoided starvation during the winter of 1620-21.
But from an American Indian perspective, what is it we're supposed to be so thankful for?
Does anyone really expect us to give thanks for the fact that soon after the Pilgrim Fathers regained their strength, they set out to dispossess and exterminate the very Indians who had fed them that first winter?
Are we to express our gratitude for the colonists' 1637 massacre of the Pequots at Mystic, Conn., or their rhetoric justifying the butchery by comparing Indians to "rats and mice and swarms of lice"?
Or should we be joyous about the endless series of similar slaughters that followed: at St. Francis (1759), Horseshoe Bend (1814), Bad Axe (1833), Blue Water (1854), Sand Creek (1864), Marias River (1870), Camp Robinson (187 and Wounded Knee (1890), to name only the worst?
Should we be thankful for the scalp bounties paid by every English colony -- as well as every U.S. state and territory in the lower 48 -- for proof of the deaths of individual Indians, including women and children?
How might we best show our appreciation of the order issued by Lord Jeffrey Amherst in 1763, requiring smallpox-infested items be given as gifts to the Ottawas so that "we might extirpate this execrable race"?
Is it reasonable to assume that we might be jubilant that our overall population, numbering perhaps 15 million at the outset of the European invasion, was reduced to less than a quarter-million by 1890?
Maybe we should be glad the "peaceful settlers" didn't kill the rest of us outright. But they didn't really need to, did they? By 1900, they already had 98 percent of our land. The remaining Indians were simply dumped in the mostly arid and unwanted locales, where it was confidently predicted that we'd shortly die off altogether, out of sight and mind of the settler society.
We haven't died off yet, but we comprise far and away the most impoverished, malnourished and disease-ridden population on the continent today. Life expectancy on many reservations is about 50 years; that of Euroamericans more than 75.
We've also endured a pattern of cultural genocide during the 20th century. Our children were processed for generations through government boarding schools designed to "kill the Indian" in everym child's consciousness and to replace Native traditions with a "more enlightened" Euroamerican set of values and understandings.
Should we feel grateful for the disastrous self-concept thereby fostered within our kids?
Are we to be thankful that their self-esteem is still degraded every day on cable television by a constant bombardment of recycled Hollywood Westerns and television segments presenting Indians a absurd and utterly dehumanized caricatures?
Should we tell our children to find pride in the sorts of insults to which we are subjected to as a matter of course: Tumbleweeds cartoons, for instance, or the presence of Chief Wahoo and the Redskins in professional sports?
Does anybody really believe we should feel honored by such things, or by place names like Squaw Valley and Squaw Peak? "Squaw," after all, is the Onondaga word for female genitalia. The derogatory effect on Native women should be quite clear.
About three-quarters of all adult Indians suffer alcoholism and/or other forms of substance abuse. This is not a "genetic condition." It is a desperate, collective attempt to escape our horrible reality since "America's Triumph."
It's no mystery why Indians don't observe Thanksgiving. The real question is why do you feast rather than fast on what should be a national day of mourning and atonement.
Before digging into your turkey and dressing on Nov. 23, you might wish to glance in a mirror and see if you can come up with an answer.
Ward Churchill is professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. He's the author of "A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas, 1492 to the Present" (City Lights Books, 199 and "Struggle For the Land: Indigenous Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Expropriation in Contemporary North America" (Common Courage Press, 1992).
AN ALTERNATIVE TO THANKSTAKING (from California Peace Action)
Unless you are a history buff (or perhaps even if you are), it's likely you’ve never heard of International Human Rights Day, the holiday that commemorates the day in 1948, when the UN adopted the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
So why observe this day? Because half a century after the signing, the Declaration of Human Rights is as relevant today as it's ever been. And because Dec. 10th marks a time when America and the whole world came together to declare that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."
UPDATE: My father's side of the family has agreed to observe Human Rights Day on or near Dec. 10 instead of Thankstaking! My father's a Republican (as is his wife), but it was he who encouraged me to learn more about Native Americans when I was in college.
12/10/2005 11:33 am
Have a happy Human Rights Day!
11/22/2007 6:56 pm
You could be thankful for the things YOU have that are good in your life NOW, or you can wallow in this perception you've made a decision to lobby for. Your choice. You're FREE in this country to do as you like and clearly you do not feel like having a day to feel and share gratitude with people who care about you. |
Maybe your life is terrible and you're thankful for nothing... I don't know. I only know that it's not appreciated when you impose this desperate mantra on everyone else simply because we enjoy this wonderful American tradition.
12/16/2008 4:14 pm
I'm fine with being thankful, my issue is origin of the holiday and the reason for its existence. A significant number of Native Americans DO NOT celebrate Thanksgiving on that day. Why?|
For them, Thanksgiving is celebrated every day of the year--except on the last Thursday of November, which to them is the American Indian Holocaust Memorial. There are three major ceremonies for this annually: one in Plymouth, one on Alcatraz island, and in Los Angeles (which I've attended).
I do have a lot to be thankful for--but others have paid a very high price for most these things. For example, the very land I live on was occupied by others for tens of thousands of years before they were exterminated either physically or culturally. Many of the products I use are sweatshop product and/or are bad for the environment.
If most Native Americans decide that the last Thursday of every month is a day to give thanks, I'll reconsider this holiday.
2/4/2009 6:37 pm
I had heard on the radio that Hitler was inspired by U.S. relocations of Indians, and this video says the same thing (although that's not the focus):|
11/28/2009 2:54 pm
It is funny how the sheep turn the blind eye.|
Those so comfortable in their Disneyland bubbles...
I dislike Thanksgiving cards that depict a happy Indian.
The People had prime real estate.. took care of it.
What the Indian took from the land.. he gave back.
He shared the land with strangers. And what happened,
the Indian was made a fugitive on his own land.
And what is this, being thankful for the one day.
The rest of the year one can go back being raving a-ho's
So we have this one day to remind us... be thankful.
Did you help clean the kitchen after the cooks were done?
tisk tisk that was not being too thankful.
And how did you thank Mother Earth.
I dont know about you but I seen plenty of non green trash
filling up the trash cans last couple of days.
Thanksgiving has be come more of a capitalistic sandtrap
get you ready for "Christmas" Black Friday. To show thanks
you must buy buy buy. How about showing thanks by doing
something. Actions speak louder than words and greeting cards.
One who voices injustice is not necessarily saying
his life is terrible. Just because one says there is
a horse fly in their soup is not the same as the guy
on the golden gate bridge singing his life sucks.
The fact I never believed in celebrating Christopher Columbus Day
does not suggest I had a bad childhood. The man did not discover
America... and his gift to the Indians Ha! Don't let me get started.
4/5/2010 9:41 pm
I'm not native, but I spent my childhood living on a reservation. I appreciated reading this tonight.|
A book I really like is The Education of Little Tree. I love stories that are so simple seeming, yet so profound. Fiction sometimes has a way of speaking truth to us more profoundly than facts.
Though as someone who likes doing research in order to help make the world better... I must say I like your facts! I find it really sexy when a man knows how to use his brain.
I mostly appreciated this because it made me pause and stop and really think. I consider myself to be somewhat well read and aware, and here I am scrambling to come up with vegan organic alternatives to the traditional dinner, not really thinking of why I'm doing this in the first place.
(Not to mention this is the last thing I imagined to find on AdultFriendFinder this evening!)