Published on Thursday, November 27, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
Thanksgiving We Can Believe In
Seven years before Tisquantum (Squanto, to most of us) helped the Pilgrims recover from their disastrous first winter in
We do not hear much of this history on Thanksgiving. We hear instead that in the spring of 1621 Tisquantum taught the Pilgrims to grown corn and catch eel. We hear that come autumn, gratitude suffused the harvest feast, that beautiful gathering of men who had seen Shakespeare in his lifetime and men ignorant of paper but living lives of plenty. These things are indeed true, but a fuller truth is that Tisquantum helped the Pilgrims as much from fear as from charity and that alongside the goodwill at the first Thanksgiving were mutual mistrust and just-restrained hostility. The mistrust, on the Wampanoags' side at least, was well founded, as their destruction by colonial
The consequences are written all over America's most populous reservations, where half the men and women have no work, half their children drop out of school, and still greater majorities, adult and adolescent, rot slowly from addiction to drink and drug. The reservation birthright is an eightfold risk, compared to other Americans, of dying of tuberculosis, a twofold risk of dying in infancy, and a three- or fourfold risk of dying by one's own hand while still a child. On reservations like
Indians have, of course, tried to better their lot. But they are cursed by a dependence on the kindness of strangers far surpassing that of others who were once written out of the American dream. Blacks and Latinos, say, make up 12 and 15 percent of
And so Indians are reduced to asking our leaders to do what is right because, quaintly, it is right, not because it will win them votes or dollars. Morality has always been a weak political card, but our nation has come to a rare moment when there is at last a chance--call it a hope--that the card might play. For the man just elected president, now of necessity coldly calculating what his
What, specifically, Indians hope for is no mystery. They hope our new president will end their Eternal Depression (compared to which our Great Depression was a curio) with a New Deal: a CCC, a WPA, an NYA, and all the rest of FDR's alphabet-soup work programs, only under Indian control. They hope our new president will return a few of their stolen lands; for a start, the federal tracts in the Black Hills, sacred to the Lakotas and seized by rankest theft, can be given back without disturbing a single acre owned by a white man. They hope our new president knows, or learns with grief, that tribal colleges and universities--born only a generation ago in trailer homes but already, in the greatest Indian victory since Little Bighorn, turning dropouts into graduates by the thousand--have never received even half the funds our niggardly Congress has authorized for them over the years. They hope our new president will raze the corrupt and soul-crushingly inefficient Bureau of Indian Affairs and erect in its place a truer friend of, by, and for Indians. And they hope our new president will free at last Leonard Peltier, the Mandela of Indian Country. Peltier has been imprisoned these 32 years for killing two FBI agents, an act he may or may not have done. What is certain is that he and his people returned the FBI's fire only after years of savage provocation, that his trial was one of the grossest railroadings in the history of American courts, and that our government's guilt far outstripped anything he stood accused of. The man has done time enough. So has Indian Country. Let us hope that may change.
Steve Hendricks is the author of The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country . His website is SteveHendricks.org.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs