Happy Thanksgiving...I think...
Since it is time for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving, I thought that this journal reflection would be a good time to reflect not only on this “holiday,” but also to consider in all the ways in which this holiday is a perfect example of dominant discourse gone WILD, and how this has shaped our lives as Americans in ways that are inappropriate and ugly. It is sort of like case in point of everything we have been discussing in all of my women's studies courses over the past three years. Yum! Let's eat some turkey and celebrate the annihilation and oppression of an entire indigenous society! Happy Thanksgiving!
Well, at the very least, I get to poke at the ribs of a very hurtful holiday (to some) that not only paints Europeans as hardy, resilient and resourceful, but additionally stereotypes Native Americans as savages in need of ethnic cleansing and unworthy of land ownership and other “god-given” rights. From the moment that the first “outsiders” landed in the New World, the concept of Globalization began to take effect. They brought with them notions of Euro-centric hierarchy, Christian religious fundamentalism and a desire to carve out a place of their own at any cost to land or people. In researching the history of the pilgrim's meager beginnings, one questions the legitimacy of the historical idea that this group came to the New World looking for freedom from religious oppression. That is the old story, correct? They came here to escape the religious persecution of their homelands so that they could worship in the manner they believed in? Seems ironic that in structuring the new dominant discourse of the colonized New World and laws of the land, the pilgrims did not believe in extending this same sense of religious freedom to the Native peoples.
Please forgive me for ranting, and also thank you for allowing me the space to do so. I feel strong in letting my voice be heard within the context of this forum – which is so great because it allows us another avenue to connect and be heard. It also allows me to continue my rant and explain why this entire post, oddly enough, was inspired by two, stupid, cardboard cut-outs that I saw at my dentist's office this week. There, taped on the wall, was a cut-out of a little “pilgrim” girl and a little “pilgrim” boy. They had their chubby little hands full of corn, fruit and turkey legs, they were both smiling, happy and Caucasian. I was immediately struck with a lot of what I wrote above, however, I was also struck with a bit of sadness. The sadness of a person who realizes that her country likes to lie to her and to her fellow humans. A country that “feels” that it is OK to once a year, CELEBRATE a holiday that is tied to the genocide of a culture of people. The representations of the children seemed to speak volumes – but “what” was the message...and “who” is hearing it?
I was so fortunate to take an environmental class last year from a Native American woman named Judy Bluehorse. In her class, she was gracious enough to speak extensively on the celebrations surrounding Thanksgiving, as well as many other sources of institutionalized oppression and sort of “in-your-face” callousness that Native American's face everyday while navigating this public sphere. She gave an example of how many schools, cities and even streets throughout the United States are still named after celebrated “Indian” killers – this to me is not unlike the “in-your-face” ugliness that Thanksgiving must represent to this country's indigenous culture. But who knows this knowledge? And perhaps a greater question should be, who is controlling the information so that non-native people of this country DO NOT know the TRUE history regarding the colonization of this country? If we allowed a multi-cultured history to come forward, if we present the history from a non-Western, male-centric, Christian, (yada-yada) view point – how WOULD our understanding of Thanksgiving change? Would I still see depictions of happy, smiling, chubby Pilgrim children? Would non-Natives still feel the desire to celebrate this day and stuff our faces full of food while the rest of the world starves? I really want to divert here and ramble endlessly regarding my opinion of how this “holiday” has turned into the most glutenous, ridiculous, unbelievable display of capitalistic human consumption, but then, that might be better for another post....
I hope this does not come across bitter because in truth it is written with hope and desire. I have the hope that we can change some of these institutions and I have the desire to fill our history books with stories that reflect a multi-cultural perspective. I would encourage those of us with children, to reteach the belief system surrounding this holiday and take the time to educate our children on Indigenous cultures, specifically Native Americans. This is not an assignment of guilt, rather it is an assignment of challenging those institutions that in oppressing one also oppresses ALL.
I plan on celebrating Thanksgiving a little differently this year by exploring new ideas and new ways of honoring not only my forefathers, but honoring and thanking the Native Americans for their incredible struggle and legacy. It is a choice to to educate ourselves, but it is not always easy when those “choices” appear hidden or invisible. Reach out, hold hands, spread the word.
Peace and love – I leave you with the following:
“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal right upon it...Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty”
Heinmot Tooyalaket (Chief Joseph) Great Leader of the Nez Perce