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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thoughts on Thanksgiving...

... and Native Americans

Kim introduced me to a new blog to add to my "Stitchers to Visit" site. Marcie has some thoughtful things to say about Thanksgiving and the history or Indian/White relations in our country.

Her comments reminded me of the video I show every year, produced by Norman Lear as part of his "Declare Yourself" campaign and his Declaration of Independence Road Trip. A few years ago, Declare Yourself sent a teaching kit as a gift to teachers, and I have been showing it to every student since. I've probably watched it a hundred times and I still get teary-eyed every time I listen to Morgan Freeman's introduction.

As most of my friends here know, I teach early American history. I originally planned to focus on Indian/White relations, but when I got to the university I had chosen for their fine Native American history program, I learned that the key professor had retired the year before. I switched my focus to Westward Expansion with Dick Oglesby (a move I never regretted). I've continued to study (including an amazing course in Cherokee history by Dr. Julia Coates and the Cherokee Nation). The more I learned about the relations between indians and Americans, the more I understood Native American reluctance to embrace Thanksgiving.

Their reluctance is well-founded. The history of Europeans, then Americans, in relation to the peoples they found here when they arrived is a history of, at best, competition for limited resources and, at worst, betrayal of the worst kind at every level. Martie is right, though, than in some circumstances - usually those in which Europeans/Americans behaved with integrity - very healthy and supportive relationships developed. In the late nineteenth century, after the "end" of the Plains wars and when the American government decided that Sitting Bull was still a threat to be eliminated, some of Sitting Bull's most vocal supporters were his white neighbors.

He was assassinated anyway.

Which is why I am grateful to be reminded, by Marcie's thoughtful Thanksgiving comments, of Morgan Freeman's comments at the beginning of the Declare Yourself video. He says,

"The real glory of the Declaration of Independence has been our nation's epic struggle throughout history to close the gap between the ideals of this remarkable document and the sometimes painful realities of American life."

It is not for Americans today to feel guilty about our ancestor's treatment of the People, but rather to work to ensure that the atrocities (if not physical, but political) of the past do not continue into the future. I, for one, feel a sense of justice at work when tribes, in SoCA often pushed onto the least productive of lands, have built huge fortunes for their people through the gaming industry. While, granted, some tribes still have work to do to determine how best to help their people with this new income, it is totally inappropriate for the U.S. government to now be looking at ways to - again - tap this indian resource for white people's gain.

So, while I will honor this day of meditation on the many things I have to be thankful for, I will refrain from featuring Pilgrim figurines in my Thanksgiving displays.


1 comment:

Marita said...

Thank you for this entry. As a non-American looking in it is wonderful to learn about some of the history behind your country.