“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.”
(The Rock Cries Out to Us Today)
Tomorrow is one of my favorite days. I love this time of year. I love watching the leaves blaze in brilliant color just before they fall. I love the cozy sweaters and sitting near to flames licking warm hearths. I love the food and all of the planning and preparation that goes into gathering loved ones together to feast on the nourishment of family and laughter and thanksgiving.
But today my heart is so heavy. It’s heavy because I realize our celebration is rooted in a dark history. Our celebration is cause for others’ mourning. Grief for lives and land lost, heritage obliterated, culture whitewashed by the archives of history so cleverly re-written.
We are the conquerors relishing our privilege, feasting on the spoils of war and bloodshed.
One year in college, I came home for the holiday and really got into the spirit of things. I made paper headbands and bonnets and hats representing the Natives and the Pilgrims. I made my family wear them and we laughed and reenacted what I’d been taught was a moment of goodwill and peace.
When you know better, you do better.
I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my own ignorance. Of my willingness to believe this story without digging deeper. Without understanding the horrors that took place, that are still taking place.
My family has a portrait of a woman, said to be one of our great-grandmothers. She has dark, long hair and beautiful brown eyes. She is gazing into the distance, her face weathered like the land. Like so many tributaries giving life to the earth, creating canyons and carrying hope to desolate places.
Her name is Margaret. She is Native. She runs through my bloodstream, still. Records of her in our family tree are blurry, like a phantom limb. The details are incomplete. But we know we belong to her. And she belongs to us.
I don’t know how to reconcile our past with our present or how to remedy a future with hope if we do not honestly confront our wrongdoing and the wrongdoing of our ancestors. What happened is not our fault, but we are at fault if we don’t acknowledge the truth. And pray for peace. And ask forgiveness.
The best thing I know is to speak of it. To dig it back up and to see it. To feel the centuries of pain. To know that the wound is not yet healed. To look for ways to make it right. To listen to the voices that are still speaking from the bloodlines that survived.
To be aware with every breath that our country carries a fault line. That it runs deep like a scar across the land. That there will be a reckoning. A restitution, a remembering.
Let it begin with us. Let us go willingly into the past so that our future can be different. Whole. Phantom limbs restored to our own belonging.
Consider reading/listening to “The Rock Cries Out to Us Today” poem by Maya Angelou tomorrow during your Thanksgiving celebration
Read “A Thanksgiving Message from Seven Amazing Native Americans.”
Financially support the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), a nonprofit who has provided legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide who might otherwise have gone without adequate representation since 1971.
Research the history of Native peoples in your community. Learn their names and their stories.Have an honest conversation with your friends and family about the true history of Thanksgiving and encourage others to celebrate in ways that honor Native people and this land.