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!


Glenn Buttkus said...

A terrific and wonderful report, Joy. Too many of us buy wholesale the traditional historical bull about the Indians sharing corn and turkeys with the pilgrims, all smiles and good cheer. It is appropriate that we sometimes look at our own history from both side now. Your insights are always bang on, and your compassion shines through your sadness.


Inspiring Newsletter said...

Well spoken, I appreciated your remembering and pointing a way forward. Ashe to that.

gminks said...

I wish I had known you were here. I'm here from NW Fla - family is from N Ga. Bristled today because people are complaining they cant get new sewage lines because of the historical findings the digging is exposing.

In some ways New England is just as redneck as home....

Charles Henderson Blake said...

A Facebook conversation with my son:

Charles Blake "I guess my problem is I am an African living in America." November 17 at 8:00pm

Charles Blake What do you mean son? What's biting you? November 18 at 5:09am

Charles Blake Just two incidents of racism in my life in a four day period. Africans did not ask to be brought to America. That forty acres and a mule didn't materialize. Share cropping was a bitch. Jim Crow. The Klu Klux Klan and now two white boys in three days want to start talking some Nigg*r stuff in my presence. And do add some irony to the situation. Barack Obama is President of the United States of America. Sun at 11:32pm

Charles Blake If Africans hadn't been tortured, murdered, and enslaved would you exist? I think you did a good job choosing the circumstances of your birth. Would you, on balance, want to be someone else? Of course I'm a little bias. I'm thrilled you choose me to be your father!
Mon at 2:31am · Delete

Charles Blake No, I don't think I would exist. Maybe my soul in a different circumstance, but I dont know if I believe in reincarnation or not. I am not saying I have a bad life, Dad. I am very blessed, and would not and do not want to be anyone else. Your a great Dad and I look forward to seeing you later on this week. Mon at 11:36am

Charles Blake Thank you son! See you Wednesday!!!
Mon at 12:27pm · Delete

Ruth D~ said...

When I was teaching, I tried to convey the different POVs involved in history and the inhumanities done by one group to another. The children, as young as they were, clearly saw the injustices. White-washed history, revisionist history does none of us any good.

On a lighter note, I mentioned your beautiful book, *For a Girl Becoming,* in the Internet Review of Books 2009 holiday gift issue. The books so nicely carries your theme of compassion and forgiveness.

Copy and paste the URL and scroll a bit:

Cynthia said...

Yes Joy, I agree with you, this
"holiday" is hardly authentic.
However, families communing
with one another is positive.

And, yes the past horrors bear
so vividly on the heirs.

I find your poems to be quietly
wrenching [my soul} as I read
and reread each one.

Happy to have found your blog.