Ben Buchwalter

What, to the Native American, is Thanksgiving?
November 27, 2008, 8:05 am
Filed under: Race, Random | Tags: , ,

In 1852, Frederick Douglas was asked to speak at a convention in Rochester, NY to commemorate the 4th of July. At this point, the ownership and mistreatment of slaves was still accepted throughout the United States.

Douglass’ speech, “What to the American Slave, is the 4th of July” was a brief but well-reasoned rebuke against the (lack of) logic of asking him to speak. Pointing out the hypocrisy of American independence day, Douglass said:

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine.

I wonder if Native Americans feel the same way about Thanksgiving. The revisionist history of Thanksgiving is that we Europeans jumped off the boat and were graciously welcomed by America’s original inhabitants so everyone shared a massive feast to commemorate their great partnership in this great country.

We now know that this story is entirely false. In reality, Europeans stole their land, and massacred the vast majority of the Native American population. The discrimination of America’s native population was official government policy for the vast majority of our history, just as slavery and racial segregation was official U.S. policy for more than two hundred years. And we have yet to repent properly.

So what, to the Native American, is Thanksgiving? It is a farce that highlights the government’s selective amnesia in its darkest hours. It is a mockery of the beautiful and well-maintained land that was stolen in return for the dusty reservations that white people did not want.

Thanksgiving should make us think about what we are thankful for. But it should also make us think about our failings and how we can improve upon them. And I would like to see a more whole-hearted attempt by the United States government to apologize for its original sins of slavery and Native American relocation, even if this attempt is only in the form of words.

That would finally make days like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving fully inclusive holidays that represent national cohesion rather than ignore past oppression.


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