“Happy Thanksgiving” – It is a wrestling with conviction and idealism. This tension of our bloody past with the need to forget it. Reconciliation.
Thanksgiving is wrapped up in our national identity, essentially based on myth with strong symbols inserted into our fractured beginning. For most people these days, the holiday has become a true day of giving thanks for all they have rather than the historic symbols which emulate Pilgrims and Indians, cornucopias and turkeys. The myth is less celebrated replaced with our need to be reminded of being a people who are grateful and thankful for what they have.
This “first harvest” dinner celebrated between Pilgrims and Native People is portrayed as a holistic supper emulating peace and mutual companionship. This simplistic child’s tale is easy to digest and promotes unity between a people who were living on their land, and the foreigners who came over and took over so that many of us can sleep better at night. It is also the common story told in main stream America, and not the history the Natives know to be true. There story holds no peaceful moment, and so it becomes a struggle of history retold for a clear conscious.
Living in the adolescent fantasy of a communal dinner where different cultures were coming together to enjoy a feast is a version we would all like to believe. I know I do. I love Thanksgiving. I have a lot of really rich and warm memories of my family and friends being together. Sitting around a table, laughing, talking and reminiscing. Eating food that is as traditional as the holiday, stirring memories of comfort from years past.
Thanksgiving makes me think about all things warm and homey. Cinnamon, pumpkin pie, pine, cool weather, football, family, connectedness, comfort, support, fullness. My memories tell me that on this day, all strife is put aside and we come together. The most important thing is to be thankful for the harvest and family.
These last few years however, I felt the small nagging pull of reality. The full truth of our history and the imprint of this holiday that we set a blind eye too because, well, it happened so long ago, and we are all over it now.
We don’t really talk about it anymore.
And frankly it’s easier not to. Who wants to dig deep into the dark, murderous, colonization, violent, hate crime ridden history that we are currently celebrating? Can we be a country that is proud to be a place of refuge for all people if our beginnings are based on the dehumanizing and genocide of the Native People?
So this small unrest in my spirit would make itself known, but quietly and I would push it aside in favor of warm feelings, beautiful memories and time together with my family.
Yet, Standing Rock is happening. Every day, every night for months, Native People are fighting for their rights. For their water. For their land. In a time when they shouldn’t have to. We sit once again in full view of discrimination of our Native People. We watch as they are disregarded, dehumanized, and disrespected. They are not honored or regarded with integrity. “Power” is wielded over them as if their life, their voice, their families and traditions don’t matter. A powerfully glaringly obvious reminded of our American beginnings. One we are celebrating this week.
Then I went and heard Mark Charles, (at 5 small loaves) speak at Bethel University about “The Doctrine of Discovery” and he ripped open the door to those feelings and the veils fell from my eyes and I couldn’t ignore our false history anymore. He spoke of the founding documents, ideals, and religious take over of our country in a way that challenged the listeners without isolating them. Seriously, I sat there and so many thoughts fell into place while listening to him. He spoke with conviction and gentleness and tore down our false story of discovery and exploration of the New World. I am simultaneously incredibly thankful for the knowledge he gave me, while at the same time, want to unhear and unsee the wisdom he gave so I can continue blissfully living in ignorance where the world makes sense and I can be happy.
I believe it is the respect due to the native people to wrestle through the conflict of the holiday and reconcile the actual history of America with the one we pretend it was. This Thursday we will give thanks. Having a celebration or feast for the harvest is as ancient a tradition since the beginning of time. However, it is my human, spiritual, and civil responsibility to dismantle these falsehoods we have been taught. To continue to perpetuate this imagined story that we see as peaceful, and realize it is bloody and not ancient, but still continues to this day to be a reality we must confront and lament.
So now I am stuck with feelings that are sour and a family and children that aren’t in the same place as I am. They are still hoping for, wishing for, wanting the magic of the season. But my heart is in contention and I find it difficult to say “Happy Thanksgiving” because it feels fallacious and contaminated. I somehow must learn to live in a new reality, gently guide myself and my family to the full truth, and honor a day dedicated to being grateful for provisions.
So what am I going do with this wrestling in my soul as I try to live in honesty and integrity?
- Give permission to the shift of idealism
- Accept the whole truth in reality
- Be dedicated to be aware
- Commit to reassess
- Have courage to admit failure
- Garner strength to push hard into uncomfortable places
- Be patient with those who have not wrestled with these demons.
- Speak respectfully to any and all people
- Teach my children the full truth and whole reality
- Include a Native dish at our Thanksgiving table
- Continue to show up and stand in hope and reconciliation
- Donate to the local tribe of Native People whose land used to be where my house is
- Visit the Center for Native Americans in the cities and learn more about them
- Host a storytelling event with Native People to seek knowledge and gain understanding
- Support 90.3 which advocate for Native People and host shows wholly dedicated to their lives
- Hold and carry their story everywhere I go in effort to not forget, advocate for, and take risks for their health and security
- Educate myself more in the full reality of Standing Rock and how to be a voice for change
We all are at different parts of our journey. Each viewing life and what it holds separately, so on this highly celebrated national holiday, let us remember to always turn our hearts towards gratitude, while also never relenting the quest for truth and justice. In order to respect this holiday it feels critical to acknowledge fully its history. It is a balancing act of the acutest kind.
So this week, I do not say, “Happy Thanksgiving”, but I will in fact lament our past and hold our future with hope all the while having gratitude for every blessing big and small that has been bestowed upon me.
To Mark Charles, Thank you so much for your work in advocating for Native People. Your tireless commitment to bringing knowledge of the full truth and creating a common memory for all people. We are with you, and want to join you on your journey of peace and reconciliation.
To hear a recent interview with Mark, click here. Also make sure to follow him on Facebook, hire him to come speak at a conference, church or college near you, and support all the work he is doing.