2021-11-25 Donna Thomson A Truer Thanksgiving Story

tomorrow, Thanksgiving. I have been reading all afternoon poems by Joy Harjo (of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and our current American Poet Laureate for the last three years) and other indigenous poets. I am remembering the roots of this holiday, I remember standing on a stage, maybe 8 years old, "dressed up" reciting Longfellow's poem Hiawatha, I remember the pretty girl with blonde braids, her arms crossed in front of her, chanting strange-sounding words, no doubt made up. This is our heritage of Thanksgiving, a holiday rooted in theft and genocide, colonization and subsequent racism. I have heard so many rationalize, I'm not celebrating the Pilgrims, I'm just celebrating gratitude. After all this day means family, and gathering and community and love and gratitude. Yes, but there's another story. Maybe it's time to look at Thanksgiving. It's one thing to look South and support the statues of the Confederacy being removed. No one I know personally finds those hard to give up, although I know there are those who do. Thanksgiving, that's another matter. We're deeply attached. The fact of the future is, we are going to have give up a lot in order for humans to survive, in order for there to be a future. We're going to have to give up a lot of our histories in order to come together and clean up the mess our ancestors made. We're going to have to give up a lot more than an occasional statue or holiday. We're going to have to give up deeply ingrained mindsets and habitual ways of life. That's just a fact. So, maybe it's time to just take a moment on Thanksgiving to recognize its true story. Maybe at least read a poem from Joy Harjo at your holiday table. She has a voice of power, and spirit and pain and confrontation.. and beauty and love and community ..she welcomes everyone to a different table, she holds out her hand. Her well-known poem "The Kitchen Table" is perfect for that. You can find it easily. Here's another one, not so easy, though, to read to yourself, if not to others, and remember. It's not the specific story of thanksgiving, but really, the story that happened then has been repeated over and over and is still being repeated. The story of thanksgiving is not ancient history and it's not a story of community and welcome and peace and support. Maybe if we remind ourselves we will make some promises to ourselves to give up our histories, to remake them, to find a way to extend our hand, to go forward from here, not backward. I feel somehow impelled to apologize for being negative (something I have often been accused of), on a holiday, after all, when we've just all been through so much, and can't I just have a day to relax and enjoy and not think about things? I guess not, at least I can't. Acknowledging realities other than our own is not being negative. It's necessary for our survival. Every day. We have to remember. And act accordingly.

In Mystic (by Joy Harjo)

My path is a cross of burning trees,
Lit by crows carrying fire in their beaks.
I ask the guardians of these lands for permission to enter.
I am a visitor to this history.
No one remembers to ask anymore, they answer.
What do I expect in this New England seaport town, near
    the birthplace of democracy,
Where I am a ghost?
Even a casino can’t make an Indian real.
Or should I say “native,” or “savage,” or “demon”?
And with what trade language?
I am trading a backwards look for jeopardy.
I agree with the ancient European maps.
There are monsters beyond imagination that troll the waters.
The Puritan’s determined ships did fall off the edge of the
    world . . .
I am happy to smell the sea,
Walk the narrow winding streets of shops and restaurants,
and delight in the company of friends, trees, and small
I would rather not speak with history but history came to me.
It was dark before daybreak when the fire sparked.
The men left on a hunt from the Pequot village here where I
The women and children left behind were set afire.
I do not want to know this, but my gut knows the language
    of bloodshed.
Over six hundred were killed, to establish a home for God’s
    people, crowed the Puritan leaders in their Sunday 
And then history was gone in a betrayal of smoke.
There is still burning though we live in a democracy erected
over the burial ground.
This was given to me to speak.
Every poem is an effort at ceremony.
I asked for a way in.

From "Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings"

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