Thoughts About Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving now upon us, many will write their annual obligatory comments on Facebook, Twitter, via text messages and so forth.

These messages will run the gamut from simple (“Happy Thanksgiving”), to the spiritual (“Give God glory and thanks on this day for all of His blessings”), to political (“This day commemorates the white man’s betrayal of Native American humility and generosity.”) I too, participated in this ritual of praise and gratitude. This morning I posted the following:

There is no law that says we must mimic others’ cultural practices, or share their identical values or narratives. I have learned to give thanks every day. No words can adequately express how thankful I am for life, family, friends, political comrades, and the ability to earn my living by serving my people. I also thank those of you who take time to read my essays, purchase my books hire me to speak or consult, or tolerate my occasional rants.

Certainly the holiday is not wrapped in religious mythology and materialism like other national holidays. This day is traced to a documented time and place in history, and given its emphasis on gathering, eating, and giving thanks to each other and God, people of all faiths, nationalities and ethnicities can participate without reservation, save indigenous Americans perhaps.

It’s this last realization that gets me. Indulgent as we are in the annual array of food, parades, and football games, we often don’t stop to think about the significance of this holiday to the descendants of those first Native American participants.

Of all people in our national existence, they most likely receive the least of our conscious attention on Thanksgiving or any other day. Usually we think of them as the backdrop to something else: a war chant at a sports event, a logo on a football helmet, a city seal, the villains in cowboy movies, the unfortunate victims of Columbus’ misguided voyages, or name of a highway or city.

Through these limited cultural manifestations they live on in our collective memories.

The sad fact however, is that most of us have never personally met a Native American. Most of us won’t meet one, because the vast majority of them were decimated through years of imperialist conquest and exposure to disease. Those remaining were forced onto reservations, marked by deprivation.

Even now as we lament over the most recent atrocities in Kenya, France, Chicago, and elsewhere, we might forget or ignore this fact:  Native Americans were and remain our national mockery, one of our best examples of genocide, and yet another unresolved U.S. imperialist violation.

Still, we have MUCH to be thankful for materially and spiritually. And yes, we owe much praise to The Creator for the blessings we’ve received. True, it is wholesome and edifying to gather among family and friends to share our food, energy and love.

Nonetheless, my prayer today is that we think about the enormous injustices heaped upon our Native American brethren, that we become more acquainted with their history liberation movements and their issues, and that as we advocate for ourselves, we include them in our agendas and movements.

Have a happy, loving, and reflective Thanksgiving.

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