Thanksgiving MNN Column for November 2009 by Joy Harjo

It’s dawn in Mystic, Connecticut. It’s a beautiful, New England seaport town. It’s fall and the trees are bursting in yellow and red. I can smell the sea. Still I feel uneasy, like walking into a building where there’s been rough trouble. I keep thinking about how this Eastern edge bore the brunt of colonization. European maps showed this location as a sea of monsters larger than ships. If ships made it this far, they would fall off into the abyss of the unknown. And in essence they did, into a land of plenty, far from Europe or India. They found a new “India”, and preceded to demonize and massacre the native people they found occupying these rich lands because their European God, imported from the Middle East, had given them dominion over everything, in writing.

Because I am uneasy of a history here that I don’t know, and find nothing in the hotel room tourist information magazines, I research on Google and discover that over 600 Pequot people, mostly women and children, were burned in a violent massacre here in 1637. The two entrances to the village were blocked and the village torched. The traditional enemies of the Pequot assisted the Puritan patriots. The only survivors were those who had followed the sachem Sassacus in a raiding party outside the village. On record are the Puritan preachers’ sermons of praise for God’s assistance in the killing of the heathens who stood in the way of righteousness.

I travel frequently these days and it isn’t often that such violence impresses itself so clearly to my awareness. It’s not surprising however, as indigenous peoples were 100% of the population. We’re now roughly ½ of 1% of the total census of this country. Can you imagine Europe with a handful of Europeans, or China without Chinese? These violent acts remain imprinted throughout these lands. We as native people carry the weight in our knowing. It is also a burden of the whole U.S. because the country was established on violence. This is the underside of the American legacy and this country will not move forward with integrity without a collective acknowledgement and healing.

All the high figures for diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, suicide and violence taking our children, drug dependence, physical and spiritual illnesses can be tracked to this holocaust. It’s a holocaust that continues to find roots with every act of disrespect, of racism, of judgment against or within us. We are often the perpetrators as we judge others who are not Indian enough, too white, black, who are not Christian enough or traditional enough.

The place to begin is within. Each act of compassion, kindness and forgiveness makes a handhold for those around us, and our descendents.

Thanksgiving is on us again. The holiday never sets easy with me. For many of us, it is a day of sadness, of mourning. I don’t begrudge my relatives and friends who wish to acknowledge it. And I love turkey and dressing. Still, the celebration has nothing to do with real history.

On another note: During my travels I got to hang with Durango Mendoza, a Creek citizen who is now living in Champaign, Illinois. He’s an excellent photographer, writer and kind person. He sends his regards to everyone and has been missing his Muscogee Nation News. Please send it to him!