Written by Cassie Wilson
When the sun rises this morning and the coyotes and jackrabbits that occupy this land awake from their slumber, people will joyfully jump from their beds. Some families will scurry in their cars, fasten their seat belts, and head to their neighborhood church. Hear sermons, take communion, and feel blessed by their faith. While others will greet the members of their family around the kitchen table - happily anticipating the day’s festive activities.
Throughout the day, at no set time, people will honor the pilgrims who set sail to the “New World” - that was taken from its indigeneity - and give "thanks" for the thousands of Native Americans who gave up their homes, lives, culture, and humanity. Little ones dressed up in Indigenous themed construction paper cut out’s will yell, ”Happy Thanksgiving!” unaware of the falsehood this holiday really holds.
Jonathan Garfield’s poem, “Thanksgiving” echoes the native truths of this holiday in America. Garfield is a Native American poet and apart of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux reservation located in Montana. Jonathan is one of the thousands of Native individuals who have been affected by American colonization. The tragedies of his people and a myriad of other tribes is illustrated throughout his poem:
Thank you for relocating relations, relocating their hearts, some forgetting or ashamed of their Indigenous roots. /
Thank you for Catholic boarding school surgeons painfully removing our Native tongue without anesthetic until our mouths bled English. /
Thank you for stealing our land, raping it like some woman you never knew the name of, leaving her crying, traumatized, bleeding.
When the pilgrims set foot on the soil of the New World it was for their freedom from New England religious control. They embarked on their journey so that they could live a life of religious freedom. Except during this freedom exhibition, they tore the roots of Native Americans lives from their land. The military controlled Indigenous life, they relocated tribes into “boarding schools” or “reservations” where they were beaten, killed, whipped, silenced, and Americanized. Their culture was condemned, they were not allowed to practice their sacred dances, speak their own language, or believe in their own religion. They were prisoners of somebody else's freedom.
As time paced on and America molded itself into a democracy, the allusion that Indigenous suffering was over - begun. Garfield continues to describe the suffering that Native souls still endure today:
Thank you for alcohol that now courses like blood through reservation veins. /
Thank you for the reservation suicides that have killed the spirits of those left behind.
Alcoholism, substance abuse, domestic violence, depression, self-destructive behavior, suicide ideation, feelings of shame and unworthiness are all symptoms of present and past Native American life. The massacre of Indigenous life and the suffering endured in the “reservations” courses through Native American veins. Historical Generational Trauma is defined by psychologists as the collective wounding of an individual or generation from a severely traumatic event. Like a ripple effect, the harsh abuse that the Natives on the “reservations” experienced was transmitted generation to generation. Indigenous mothers and fathers began to treat their children how they were treated by the Americans. The symptoms above began to manifest themselves - symptoms of the tragedies of lost lives, tradition, culture, and basic humanity.
So, today as families gather around their tables in ignorant bliss and the abundance of food is warmly served into the mouths of individuals who never knew the scent of blood beaten skin, the prisoners of freedom will be remembered. Their suffering will be not be silenced, their culture will not be shunned, their indigeneity will not be taken from them. In order for healing of past traumas to began for the Native Americans - the awareness of the genocide of their people needs to be present. Today thousands of silences will be held in honor of the compassion, the generosity, the kindness, the selflessness of the Native Americans who shared their food with the pilgrims on this Thanksgiving day hundreds of years ago. It is their humanity that allowed the pilgrims to live and America to flourish.
To read Jonathan Garfield's poem, "Thanksgiving" please visit the link below:
Cassie Wilson is a student majoring in English at Pasadena City College. She says, "The history of America that is taught in the education system often lacks the Native American genocide. This tragedy is an important event in history - it should not be silenced or forgotten. Native life is present, their trauma and loss is immense. In writing this blog post I am in no way trying to persuade individuals to not celebrate Thanksgiving, but rather to honor the thousands of lives lost during the colonization of America during the holiday. Healing is possible for Indigenous people and in order for that to occur, the awareness of their suffering should be present during Thanksgiving."
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