Can we just stop celebrating genocide, please?
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.
The other day, in the middle of a wonderful dinner out, my brilliant middle child said, “Y’know, Thanksgiving must feel to Native Americans a lot like Germans celebrating the Holocaust.”
It stopped me in my tracks. It’s just past Thanksgiving and moving rapidly toward the gigantic juggernaut of the Christmas (or holiday) season. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests have been in full swing for months as protectors risk life and limb to keep the source of water for millions safe and healthy (read about DAPL here). It’s winter there now and the conditions are brutal, but not nearly as brutal as what the corporations are doing, backed by the cruel actions of their government protectors (read even more here) including siccing dogs on unarmed people, spraying them with pepper spray, shooting rubber bullets, lobbing tear gas and, in one case, blowing a young woman’s arm apart with a concussion grenade.
Happy Turkey Day to you.
Most of us know how this country was flooded with European settlers and their unwilling captives, African slaves, spreading across this country like a noisome oil slick, excusing their genocidal behavior with a cry of “Manifest Destiny” (Wikipedia on Manifest Destiny). Natives were slaughtered through violence, deliberate and inadvertant exposure to previously unknown diseases including giving them blankets riddled with smallpox (Wikipedia on European invasion and the Native Peoples), removing them forcibly from their own lands — if there was a way for white people to rid themselves of the inconvenience of the original inhabitants of this country, they did so with gusto.
Happy Columbus Day to you.
Now imagine if the German people, most of whom are deeply ashamed and utterly horrified that they or their parents or grandparents were the engineers of the Holocaust, had a Holocaust Celebration Day. Can you even imagine the roars of outrage worldwide? Do you think anybody would actually defend them saying things like “it was a long time ago” or “get over it — this is our country now” or any of the things I hear white people say when Native Americans quite rightly point out how horrific it is that we celebrate their past and still ongoing destruction? Because the genocide does continue, if a lot more slowly, due to the oppressive system, particularly on reservations, Native Americans were forced into by the US government (Wikipedia on the status of Native Americans today).
We are in a time of tremendous flux, dangerous times, times when our weaknesses, our evils, the collective tiny, bigoted, colonialist, imperialist hearts of our country are being laid out in the light of day. We have lied to ourselves and the world for generations. Textbooks of my childhood literally “white-washed” history, casting European settlers as heroes wrestling this land from her original peoples and even from nature itself. As terrifying, violent and heart-breaking as this time is — with Trump as one of its most vile symptoms — this feels like growing pains. We’re being forced to take a good, hard look at ourselves. As a country in general and, in particular, white people — we’re not looking too good, but at least we’re beginning to see all the work we have to do and it is epic.
I say we need to include the tasks of renaming and retooling both the appalling Columbus Day, because Columbus was a monster of similar degree to Hitler (read more about Christopher Columbus here) — not a comparison I make lightly, but his monstrosity was more than comparable — and Thanksgiving, because while we have much about which to be grateful, much of that was gained on the backs of people we ravaged and slaughtered, and that is nothing to be thankful for.
It’s something that demands introspection, acknowledgment and no small amount of honest grief.
Many progressive cities are starting to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day — a day to acknowledge and honor the beautiful cultures that are clinging to existence due to the dogged persistence of their people. Perhaps, then, we could simply rename Thanksgiving as Gratitude Day and acknowledge, again, the truth of how this country was founded even as we celebrate all we have.
In any case, unless we would be comfortable with Germany declaring a Holocaust Celebration Day, we’d do well to start taking a good hard look at the vile origins of two of this country’s most cherished holidays.