Friday, September 22nd 2017

Thanksgiving: an act of reconciliation?

From Plymouth to John Wayne westerns, white Americans have put Native Indians between a rock and a hard place. This Thanksgiving I’m joining a festival to honor what they’ve given, and lost

GUEST COLUMN: DANNY KENNY — In the twilight slumber of Thanksgiving morning, the first boat moors at “The Rock” and the “tired and weary” passengers disembark. But this is Alcatraz not Plymouth, and we’re not here to celebrate or give thanks for our survival. We, so-called “civilized” folks, have much to be thankful for, and I’m not talking turkey here.

On the day when the majority of white Americans give thanks for the American dream . . . thanksgiving.jpg before you take an even bigger share of that pie than you need, why not spare a thought for the disenfranchised peoples of America? I refer, of course, to the original inhabitants of this continent, the Native Indians, who are still waiting for their rightful slice of the” American Pie”.

So Pilgrims, even if you don’t wear a silly black hat, why not think about what you’re truly thankful for? Especially if you’re one of the millions who claim that your peeps were one of only 50 of the 102 who arrived at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower in December of 1620 — and “miraculously” survived the first winter in the New World.

It was no miracle (although the inflated number who claim to be descended from them is). Cold and starvation killed many, and, without the generosity of the Indians who provided food and shared their survival knowledge, many more would have died. Yet for the descendants of those native Indians, “Thanksgiving” is an annual reminder that “celebrates” a continued ingratitude and betrayal of their culture, and war of attrition on their people.

“Whoa take ‘er easy there pilgrim,” I hear you misguided John Wayne fans cry!

The hell I will!

Because, also in the words of The Duke, “Tomorrow hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

Imagine if the Thanksgiving tables were turned, and you were forced out of your home and suffered what they suffered. Would you just stand by and watch as people continued to celebrate your displacement and demise? The hell You would!

Yet here in the San Francisco Bay Area it is a tribute to the spirit and resilience of “The Native People,” not to mention their generosity in forgiveness, that for this one day in the year they turn a prison into a symbol of freedom.

alcatraz.jpgIn 1969, American Indians, having found themselves interminably stuck between The Rock and a hard place, reclaimed Alcatraz in the name of their people. Since then, every year on Thanksgiving Day, they hold a Sunrise Ritual to honour the Great Spirits and the spirits of their ancestors.  This is done as a symbolic gesture, to remind every white American of the genocide committed in their name, and to bring peaceful focus to the fact that they still do not have full claim to their own lands.

I first attended in 2002, and didn’t know what to expect. I arrived on the island and headed up to the exercise yard beside the prison.

The Indian leaders and medicine men had cast the Sacred Circle and begun saging the area of negative energy. In the middle of the circle was a huge fire and there were people in native costume everywhere.  Standing with their backs to the prison: guests of honour, including some of the original Indians who took over Alcatraz.

But when one of the Elders welcomed all of us graciously with the words, “It’s good to see so many of my people here; it just proves that John Wayne didn’t get us all!” . . . You could have literally knocked me down with a ceremonial feather.

What followed was as magical as it was potent.

Many powerful speeches were made, songs were sung in native tongue and rituals performed.

In another symbol of incredible reconciliation, there was a presentation of a plaque to the Parks Committee from the Indians, to commemorate one of the original activists who had died recently. It is displayed on Alcatraz for all to see and will hopefully help to educate the many thousands that visit Alcatraz every year, who are not lucky enough to witness one of the most powerful and beautiful images of Alcatraz Prison: the Aztec Dancers.

Some 50-60 dancers in full costume, bedecked with the most amazing feathers and elaborate ornamentation, dance in the middle of the circle, like the flames of the fire, to age old rhythms and chants.  This happens under a blood red canvass of the sun rising over the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline and the ever-watchful eye of the helicopters overhead.

But the enduring image of the day was the little band of Pomo Indian kids shivering good-naturedly in the chill of first light, particularly one little boy who was only about three years old trembling for his moment to shine in the sun. As they entered the circle he began to dance and flick his little tail feathers in the air, his tiny little half naked body now oblivious to the elements.

He captured the hearts of the crowd and the spirit of the day, as people of all races, colors and gender had been so good natured and respectful.  Hopefully he will grow up to see his people get the honour and respect they deserve (not to mention the compensation).

The final act, was the circle being opened and everyone being invited by the Chief Elder, resplendent in his ceremonial headdress, to drop tobacco in the fire and offer a prayer or wish up to the heavens.

In a show of solidarity, I had brought my own sage — on behalf of the Irish people and the suffering they endured (although we are as far from blameless on this side of the pond as any of the other white immigrants).

My wish was that I could keep coming back until one day there would be some one in the White House who understood and empathized with their issues and that of all oppressed indigenous peoples everywhere.

I’ll be there again this year praying that wish has finally come true.

So Pilgrim if you’re on that boat, maybe I’ll see you there!

Danny Kenny is a writer, practicing Pagan witch and fesitival-goer who lives in San Francisco. His most recent contributions to Soul’s Code were about the sacred days of Halloween and Dia de los Meurtos.

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8 Comments on “Thanksgiving: an act of reconciliation?”

  1. Great reading and a timely reminder that being grateful also requires being cognizant of our actions and its impact on others.

    Keep up the great writing.

  2. nice one man!! you got any of dat left? if so i'll see in't jacks down d'pink. ha just kiddin mate,its about time you put that amazing/natural verbal abillity to some good use(don't stop now my friend) macker 88 r.i.p.. top draw stuff indeed danny x

  3. Thank you for this mind-correcting piece. The things we all have to be most thankful for is the multiplicity of manifestations of the one life we share and the grace that has allowed us to survive in our ignorance for so long. But, it's time to awaken and bridge the illusional gaps that separate us so we finally can true care for and about each other. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  4. I think that white people need to get over white guilt. Yes, mistakes were made by those that colonized North America but thinking that native people have all the answers or were living a "pure existance" in perfect harmony with nature, until the bad white people came along is just wrong and historically inaccurate to boot.

    There was warfare amongst the various tribes way before the whites set foot on North American shores. The whole idea of the "noble savage" is a bit much! That said, the genocide that was perpetrated on natives in the 1800's needs to be acknowledged and land claims need to be settled. I think the coming years will show even more activism by native Americans since they have a growing youth population and we all know how the young ones like to shake stuff up!

  5. We all have much to reconcile, as we all are unaware of just where our souls have been in the infinity of 'life'. I am sure I am guilty of many atrocities, I am sure I am the victim of many abuses. Not one of us is more or less innocent or guilty.

    In my experience, practicing the Huna 4 graces of Ho'Oponopono gives me just the experience of reconciliation with each moment of this life being a surrender to love. Thus 'guilt' feelings are a sign that reconciliation and integrity are to follow.

    We all have a heritage of atrocity, war, genocide, racism. If we decide to be honest, none of us emerge without blood on our hands. If I wear leather, I am supporting murder, if I burn gas, I am supporting murder, if I build a house, I am supporting murder, if I buy plastic, I am supporting murder....the list could go on ad infinitum. If we are honest about reconciliation, the invitation begins in one heart. Mine. Yours. This invites everyone to lay down their weapons.

    Bless you.

    Big Love, beloved one,

  6. Interesting article. I am Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, as the French have called us. I am Upper Mohawk to be more specific. It is not that the land belongs to us, but that we belong to the land. We are the original stewards of the land. A land that was entrusted to us by the Creator. With that trust came the responsibility to honor the land and its Creator by caring for it in a way that would enrich, support and promote life. Of course the ideal was difficult to uphold and the reality was that at times we too found ourselves missing the mark and embroiled in conflict and chaos. But the ideal is still preferred and when one is sincerely seeking holistic balance in spirituality, relationships and living in Creation, then the ideal is attainable.

  7. I don't think that we're being dissed by Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is about celebrating the Native Americans coinciding peacefully with their Pilgrim neighbors. What has happened between us from then until now shouldn't effect the happy times that our ancestors had with them, no matter what happened afterwards.

  8. Well now.

    Thanksgiving is more of a sham than anything else. I've read multiple articles in which Natives lament that it didn't go down how we think it did. A common topic in most things I've read seem to swing more towards the fact that the natives provided most of the food. As well as the dinner not being a happy gathering, and more like a get together with people you hate.

    Read that, it should give you more insight into the issue.

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