Being Native American and living in the United States I am frequently asked about appropriate ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. I have celebrated Thanksgiving all of my life. Growing up, I have memories of my mother waking up at 5 AM to prepare the turkey to the music of Handel's Messiah. In college, I remember traveling home or visiting the homes of my friends to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal and spend time together. I remember cooking my first Thanksgiving turkey and the countless calls home, asking questions throughout the entire process. And I remember many Thanksgiving feasts celebrated on the Navajo Reservation with friends, family and neighbors over the past decade.
What I don’t remember is the myth...
Flags of the United States of America waved high above the ceremony. On the second Monday of October, 2015 at 11 AM, the National Christopher Columbus Association, in coordination with the National Park Service, celebrated "522 Years of Discovery" by honoring Christopher Columbus at Columbus Plaza in front of Union Station in Washington DC.
In his welcome address, Jamie Keller (Supervisory Park Ranger, National Park Service) said he honored Christopher Columbus because "he went for it." Other speakers from the diplomatic corps of Italy, Spain and the Bahamas, followed and reiterated in some form that Columbus obviously did not "discover America, but…"
There is a movement across the country to re-appropriate Columbus Day as a Native American Heritage Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and others have begun this trend, and I am sure other municipalities will soon follow suit. However, as a native man, I am wary of such actions. Please don't get me wrong. I am all for honoring the native peoples and Indigenous hosts of Turtle Island, but I am hesitant to do so on October 12.
You CANNOT discover lands that are already inhabited. But that is exactly what Christopher Columbus, the nations of Europe, early American colonists, and the United States of America purported to do!
Disappointment. Deep disappointment.
I had been anticipating Pope Francis' speech to a joint session of Congress ever since I learned it was planned. From the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has established himself as a fearless advocate for the least, and an unapologetic prophet to both the church and the nations. A leader who shunned the glitter of the Apostolic Palace for the simplicity of a small guesthouse. A peoples Pope who rebuked the rich and ate with the poor, who scolded the extravagance of the industrialized world as he drove through it in a humble and fuel efficient Fiat. Someone who visited with prisoners, prayed with families and walked with indigenous children.
Picture a chair, an empty chair. There are dozens, even hundreds, of them sitting on the stage behind the podium. At the microphone is a Native American elder. Hurting, trembling, shaking, but standing. Full of resolve. Sharing a story of the horrors of the abuse, neglect and trauma, experienced as a young child at an Indian boarding school. In front of this elder are hundreds, even thousands, of people. Native Americans, with their heads bowed in grief, sorrow, even panic, as their own memories of similar stories are triggered. African Americans, sitting silently, staring at the ground, as they recall stories of the trauma their ancestors endured as slaves, the free labor force of an emerging nations. Americans of European descent, sitting uncomfortably, even squirming. Their eyes are wide open and their hearts are pounding as they hear stories of a history they had spent a lifetime denying existed.
The other day I was eating dinner with my wife in a restaurant located in Gallup New Mexico, a border town to the Navajo reservation. Gallup was recently named "Most Patriotic Small Town" in a nationwide contest. Soon after sitting down I noticed that we were seated at a table directly facing a framed poster of the Declaration of Independence.
The irony almost made me laugh.
When our server, who was also native, came to the table, I asked if I could show him something. I then stood up and pointed out that 30 lines below the famous quote "All men are created equal" the Declaration of Independence refers to Natives as "merciless Indian savages."
The irony was that the restaurant was filled with Native American customers and employees. And there in plain sight, a poster hanging on the wall was literally calling all of us "savages."
A few months ago I proposed an ideas for holding a series of "Truth Commision" type conferences throughout the nation beginning with the first one in Washington DC. If you would like to sign up for our email list for the latest news and information on this proposal, please sign up here.
July 5, 2015:
The Doctrine of Discovery: Renovation Church, Buffalo NY
November 14, 2014:
Presentation begins at the 21:45 minute mark.
Columbus Day Chapel at Northwestern College - The Doctrine of Discovery
Presentation begins at the 21:45 minute mark
Blog posts about Navajo Culture and Language
A Laughing Party - The first time a Navajo baby laughs, the family throws a party. The person who made the baby laugh provides the food.
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