Today’s Red Thread Letter is specifically for those in the Intentional Creativity community that want to learn more about the Thanksgiving myth and work towards healing in the United States on behalf of Native People and all of us who dwell here.
The morning light hasn’t come yet. The stars are still in the trees on the hill where I live, poking in and out as the wind of the early storm howls through. I am praying for language and for insight – to make sense of this day and how I will be with it. My husband Jonathan and I enjoy our morning rituals, of saying, ‘Good Morning. I love you.’ And that sweetness of early snuggling.
I ask him to join me at the altar to light a candle. I ask him if he knows what really happened regarding this day referred to as ‘Thanksgiving’, and he nods. He knows. Not just because he is my husband, and educated, or because I don’t call this day ‘Thanksgiving’ anymore, but because he was once a warrior himself, and he hates anything to do with war. He knows the truth, that this day is a part of a lie covering up a war on the Native people of this land. A war that began hundreds of years ago and continues on to this day.
We light the candle in front a sculpture of the Blessed Mother and I speak what I know. Let us not be a people so asleep or afraid that we won’t tell the true story of what has happened and is happening now. Let us be awake and brave to tell the stories that need to be told now. Let us be willing to speak it to others and let us honor this day along with many Native Americans, as a day of mourning, of grief, coupled with gratitude for what we have.
I have a feeling of deep sorrow knowing that after hundreds of years, most of us will not be telling the true story, because we are unaware of it, or it is too hard to speak. And even if we do know the truth, are we willing to tell it to those we gather with? Or will we continue to partake of a lie that says this day commemorates friendship between Native peoples and “Newcomers”? I believe that if we will not acknowledge the truth and we are not willing to hear and acknowledge the telling of history from the perspective of the original caretakers of this land, we will have no peace here. There cannot be healing if we will not address the wound.
What is the story? A warring people invaded a land that was not their own, bringing disease and death to the original caretakers who had lived here in harmony from time immemorial. Many of the newcomers were only able to survive here through the kindness and sharing of intelligent lifeways of the Native people. Regardless of that kindness and hospitality, the invaders took over territory, massacred the people, acted with deception, forced children away from their families, broke agreements, and began a 500-year war spurred on by the endless hunger of capitalism. Because of this, we have one of the world’s longest known genocides taking place right here in the United States. To this very day, Native peoples in the United States continue to be relegated to the edges, made invisible and are denied access to the same resources and supports that other ‘Americans benefit from. Friends do act this way towards friends.
So on this day, we have a choice – will we seek out the truth, or stay complicit with the lies? I know most of us wish this day truly was a celebration of friendship, peace, and sharing, but it not. That ‘Thanksgiving of the Future’ hasn’t come yet. I pray it does in our lifetime. For now, it is important to listen to the stories of Native people and be willing to look beyond the surface layers.
The Native American’s who are the descendants of the survivors of this genocide, tell a very different story than what is commonly taught about ‘Thanksgiving’. Despite the establishment’s persistent efforts to silence and eliminate them, they continue on and their way of life persists. They will have their story told. They are here. They are strong. They are gathering in spite of all the odds against them, to reveal the truth. And the telling of the truth will lead us toward true healing.
I want to invite you into the awareness that the United States is a nation at war to this day with its Indigenous people. It is happening, RIGHT NOW. Without this context, we cannot fully grasp the stark reality this holiday represents.
Thanksgiving’ is a commemoration and glorification of the persistent genocide of Native peoples. It is a silencing of Native people’s history, stories, and experience, past and present.
The truth is I have looked for hours for a story to quote to you that you could tell succinctly and easily to your family. I have even tried to write it out myself in a way that could make it more clear, but it is a complex story any way you look at it. Many of the Native American’s I know still celebrate ‘Thanksgiving’ and tell stories about it around the table, honoring indigenous foods. Some are asking to keep the holiday but rename it around the theme of food.
Reading this Red Thread Letter and checking the educational links included is going to take some time. Can you make time today for a cuppa with me? I invite you to do your own research or draw from what I have gathered below.
This article was just published today on Native News Online by Sherri Mitchel.
Thanksgiving, A Day of Grief and Gratitude. Read the full article here
“The first “official” Day of Thanksgiving was held in 1637 when Governor John Winthrop called for a day of thanks following the massacre of more than 700 men, women, and children from the Pequot Tribe. This massacre took place in Mystic, Connecticut, during the tribe’s Green Corn Festival. While tribal members slept, men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony crept into their camp. After tribal members had laid down their weapons, the colonists killed the men, burned the women and children in their dwellings, and sold the rest into slavery. When they returned, Governor Winthrop called for an official day of Thanksgiving to celebrate their success. This event marks the beginning of a holocaust that lasted for centuries on this land, leading to the slaughter of millions of Indigenous peoples. This factual history contains countless acts of genocide that have continued into the modern-day. This is why Indigenous people, and many of our friends and allies, recognize this day as a National Day of Mourning. This day of mourning is not just for the tragic events of the past, it is also for the ongoing suffering that our people continue to endure.
“What most people in the U.S. know is the Thanksgiving myth, which has been so regurgitated and has so saturated the U.S. landscape that there is no need to repeat the nonsense here.
Contemporary Thanksgiving is a cookie-cutter, food-based lie meant to make a very particular class and color of people feel good about peace. It’s a colonial unifier, notes Chef Nephi Craig (White Mountain Apache and Navajo). The myth, he says, programs us to think and believe that we need to accept a false story. “It’s dislocating from our identity and our truth, and we accept it, and that’s pretty damaging, I think,” he says.
And so, what you might already be feeling, is a gentle vibration beneath the veneer of plastic turkey-in-pilgrim-hat centerpieces: a growing and sincere sense that we need to stop lying about a meal that never happened. Let’s just stop regurgitating a lie that represents the whitewashing of colonization and all the forms of colonial violence that wrote the narrative of Thanksgiving.” Native News Online
Many say this day is a National Day of Mourning, which started in 1970, learn about it here. The story told in this 5-minute video is a potent telling of ‘Thanksgiving’ from a Native perspective.
The Native Governance Center page on Facebook says this: “2020 is the year to reconsider Thanksgiving. Learn the truth behind the holiday, educate yourself about the history of the land you occupy, make a plan for reparations to Indigenous communities with your household, and at the end of the day, remember that all Indigenous folx hold different viewpoints on Thanksgiving.”
Sean Sherman, the Sioux Chef also invites an emphasis on changing this day to move towards honoring our food and our food sources. “In reality, Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Native Americans and everything to do with the lies we’ve been told. Non-native people perpetuate the sanitized story of Thanksgiving, but it’s such a slap in the face of Indigenous people. This story of a peaceful feast among colonizers and tribes ignores centuries of land-grabbing and annihilation.”
We are blessed in Intentional Creativity to have learned from our Native American Elders over the past thirty years. Yesterday, our beloved Carmen Baraka said this:
“I am ever grateful for the two opportunities of speaking at the United Nations on behalf of Indigenous women and girls. I actually feel that it made a difference – it shifted the Energy. We celebrate Thanksgiving because once again it’s an energy of family coming together, but what we also do is have plates for our ancestors and do prayers. We look at it as a remembrance that we are still here and we honor those who suffered greatly for us to be here.”
In January, Carmen Baraka Spirit Warrior, will speak to us about Native Americans for our first 2021 Re-Membering Circle as part of the work of the Intentional Creativity Foundation. You can sign up here. For the past 6 months our community has gathered for mending racialized trauma, sparked by the death of George Floyd and furthered by our desire for justice.
Our African Cultural Leaders, Lauren Adorno-Weatherford and Semerit Strachan have been guiding us as we explore as a community ways we can work with art and gather in circle to disrupt and dismantle white supremacy, and how this strengthens and heals us. With the support of Amber Gould and myself in creating the container, we have held community circles in which the stories and experiences of Black, Asian, Latina and Jewish women were centered and deeply witnessed.
May this powerful work of awakening continue. You can make a sustaining donation to support the continuation of this powerful work here.
This painting was created over 17 years ago, it is called Curanderas or Here Comes Trouble. It features the three areas of influence in the shaping of my life, African, European and Indigenous.
Red Thread Letter #830
Dear One Maia ,
I am sending love along the threads of space time between us. I wasn’t able to go see my mama this holiday and I am sad about it. Things feel really strange where I live, and I am sure where you are, the landscape feels quite different than it has in the past. I hope if there are things you feel sad about too you can just let yourself feel them. Sometimes being grateful begins with acknowledging what hurts. Today what hurts is missing my mommie and knowing that many of us still aren’t aware of the roots of this day.
It is Thanksgiving in the United States, and I hold the awareness that we need to tell the true story of this day. I cannot speak for all of the Musea : Intentional Creativity Community, but I can request from my heart your attention to this matter. As a newly founded museum, part of what we do is examine our cultures and traditions and choose how we want to partake in them. We are already struggling – do we have to keep doing more? No you don’t. Take care of yourself first. But if you are called…to learn more…hang in here with me.
Here’s more from Sean Sherman, the founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef and the author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, which won the 2018 James Beard Award for best American cookbook. We have the book and love his work. In his article in TIME, he says this about the story.
“It was the Wampanoag in 1621 who helped the first wave of Puritans arriving on our shores, showing them how to plant crops, forage for wild foods and basically survive. The first official mention of a “Thanksgiving” celebration occurs in 1637, after the colonists brutally massacre an entire Pequot village, then subsequently celebrate their barbaric victory. Years later, President Washington first tried to start a holiday of Thanksgiving in 1789, but this has nothing to do with “Indians and settlers, instead it’s intended to be a public day of “thanksgiving and prayer.” (That the phrase “Merciless Savage Indians” is written into the Declaration of Independence says everything we need to know about how the founders of America viewed the Indigenous Peoples of this land.) It wasn’t until the writer Sarah Josepha Hale persuaded President Lincoln that the Thanksgiving holiday was needed and could help heal the divided nation that it was made official in 1863. But even that was not the story we are all taught today. The inspiration for that was far more exclusionist.”
“My great grandfather helped fight off General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, alongside other Lakota and Cheyenne, not even 100 years before my birth. I think about my great grandfather’s lifetime, being born in the 1850s—toward the end of the genocides that began in the 1600s across America, and stretching into the subtler but still damaging years of assimilation efforts we have endured since. He saw escalating conflicts between Lakota life as he knew it and the ever-emerging immigrants from the east. He witnessed the disappearance of the bison, the loss of the sacred Black Hills, the many broken promises made by the U.S., along with atrocities like the Sand Creek and Wounded Knee Massacres. He saw his children attend the boarding schools where they had their hair forcibly cut and were punished for speaking their languages. I wonder what he thought about the Thanksgiving story.
But I do not wonder about this: Thanksgiving really has nothing to do with Native Americans, and everything to do with an old (but not the oldest) guard conjuring a lie of the first peoples welcoming the settlers to bolster their false authority over what makes a “real” American. (Remember, only in 1924 were Native Americans allowed to become citizens of the United States — and it took decades more for all states to permit us to vote.) It is a story of supposed unity, drained of the bloodshed, and built for the sake of division.”
The children were forced into boarding schools – just look at this image – removed from their families, if there was family left. It is heartbreaking.
Dear Ones, I am sure I will get something wrong in this letter, or that there may have been something I could have done better or spoken more clearly about. I am doing what I can do. What I feel is that NOT telling the true story continues upholds the White Supremacy framework that I, and many in this community, wish to challenge and heal from at this time.
Today my invitation is to consider making an effort to decolonize your ‘Thanksgiving’
Many of us in the United States including me, feel that the myths that underpin the Thanksgiving holiday MUST be addressed and uncovered. There is great harm perpetuated by these myths which negatively impact and disregard the history and lived experiences of Native American peoples.
We can be a part of the healing that needs to take place by learning about the true history of ‘Thanksgiving’ and choosing to honor Indigenous people during this time instead. Whether you are from the United States or not, we can all support Native American peoples by acknowledging their history and the ways the United States government and institutions have been lying about it for a very long time. It is very devastating to EVERYONE but mostly to the original caretakers of this land.
I know you will do what is right for you, and still, I feel a need to speak the story. This year has been a great challenge for those of us who are responsible for speaking to and guiding a community. Between the countless impacts of the C-19 Era, the Election cycle, the Social Justice uprisings, calls for a renewed focus on Civil Rights, the increased violence toward women, the loss of jobs and small businesses, the continued attacks on Indigenous land and sovereignty, the wildfires, and the accumulated stress from all of this – oh my – it is beyond overwhelming. I heard there are even locusts in some places. It is challenging to continue to find the right words to communicate about the ways this is impacting us all. Even if I know where I stand, shaping it coherently and clearly takes time and a lot of love. Oh, and did I mention the Equal Rites Amendment didn’t pass again, and so honoring and protecting women still isn’t included in the Constitution? Ya, that too.
Sometimes I just want to say, “But wait, I am an artist and a poet, not an activist independent of those things! I don’t have enough information or education to invite my community to the ideal and most just framework!” Yet I know hard times call for growth edges. I almost didn’t send this to you about ten times. It has taken all day to get this to you.
I often ask myself, what culture are we creating in Intentional Creativity? We have curated new supportive structures, put untold hours of complimentary programming together, hired new people, and our entire team except one was able to keep their work with Musea. We’ve also shared multiple free and ticketed healing events, held Re-Membering Circles for Mending Racialized Trauma, opened a fund for micro-loans for Guild members, launched an online Museum, built two new websites to reflect our culture as well as our own proprietary app, as well as hosted a seven-day online event with over 230 women. I can say with full assurance, that we have risen to the occasion to the best of our ability during a challenging time – and I am proud of this effort and our entire team. And. Today I must speak this.
Today, Musea’s dedication to consciousness-raising continues through addressing the Thanksgiving Myth.
Many of us have canceled our holiday gatherings due to the threat of C-19 and the current spike. That said, if you are having a Thanksgiving anything, and if you are White or European, I invite you to learn about and tell a more accurate ‘Thanksgiving’ story that honors and brings dignity to the Indigenous peoples and original caretakers of this land – the land that you now live upon and on which you gather around your feast table. Today if you are a Woman of Color from any culture, except Native American, I invite you to learn about and tell the true ‘Thanksgiving’ story, as told by the Indigenous people of the United States, formerly known as a part of Turtle Island.
There are many resources for learning this story. I have read a whole bunch of them. Here is another great article about bringing anti-racism to the Thanksgiving table. This goes hand-in-hand with so much of the work done this year in our community to raise awareness about the persistence of White Supremacy and its inherent lies and myths.
On a personal level, I was smudged before I was baptized. I honor and cherish relationships Native American peoples in my close family since birth. I have worked with Native American tools for most of my ceremonial work, and now unless a Native American person is with us, I do not do this anymore in the way I did. This takes time to unlearn. It is a part of my honoring and my consciousness raising and like many of us, I have a long way to go.
Sue Hoya Sellars, my art matriarch and other mama, was told she was part Blackfoot but wasn’t raised in the tradition. She was very close to the land in her life and civil rights and social justice. She brought a new tradition to our family – telling the Native American story in connection with our Thanksgiving festivities and having a ritual, with a focus on the Trail of Tears. From there we continued, every year speaking to the realities of this ‘holiday’, which for many has become a conscious National Day of Mourning. Sure, some family members will roll their eyes, and might give you sh*t. But have your facts ready and be willing to offend if you must, while still holding the love for the truth.
“Does the truth matter to you?” This is how I will sometimes begin a hard conversation with family who may not want to hear it. It is hard to tell this without being confrontational, don’t be righteous – be humble. Be sad. Be honest. Say how you feel – and say you would like to be part of a more true honoring. You will meet resistance, but there are millions of us standing with you to be brave in speaking the story which we hope, can lead to a new story.
Thanksgiving is a myth and one that glorifies the death and oppression of Native American peoples. Let’s know the truth and be grateful for it.
Maybe you will post something on your own pages and take a stand. Please don’t just copy and paste links. Instead, be intentional and say something real from your heart.
In my family, we still gather on this feast day to tell the true story, connect with the earth, honor the Native American peoples where we live, and recommit to the healing work at hand. And honestly, a lot of the Native Peoples I know still gathering for this holiday – but the way they do it is different of course – and the stories they tell. Further, this year will be even harder because the Native American population, and especially elders is to under-resourced that they are 3.5% more likely to get C-19 than White/European people.
I continue to stand for the reality that until the United States fully acknowledges and makes reparation for our on-going genocide and occupation of the Indigenous peoples of North America, there will not be peace in our Nation. We can’t move on until we tend to the wounds of this land. We can start by first tending to this wound within ourselves.
A few things you can consider now:
- Find a good source for the true story and tell it at your intimate gatherings.
- Have a Red Thread circle over zoom with your family and tell them why this change matters.
- Some are boycotting ‘Thanksgiving’ altogether and will be in prayer for healing. Make a donation to an Indigenous foundation.
- Identify the original peoples where you live, and honor them, say the name of their tribe. Learn if any of them are still in your area. Know this information over time.
- Join the National Day of Mourning. Share about the National Day of Mourning. Mourn yourself. Feel this.
- Go outside, touch the earth, and connect with something more true than perhaps the past has brought.
This list is not exhaustive in any way. Together we can continue to be informed and make changes within the culture of Intentional Creativity to be as empowered, inclusive, informed and inspired as we can be as we move together towards revolution within and evolution without in our sweet world. Together we are learning and growing in ‘curating consciousness”.
The pain of what we have done and continue to do in the U.S. is one of the essential life threads in my work. You may not always see it directly, but behind everything is an unreasonable desire to end suffering. And in this country, the suffering of the Native Peoples is extreme. I will continue to work towards resolution within myself and will be sharing an action in 2021 for Reparations with the Native Americans in the US that each one of us who lives here can work towards.
To my Native American sisters and brothers, I am sorry, I love you, I will keep working with you, I will stand by you, I will learn from you. I see you. I am sorry and I hear your cries and add my tears to yours. I will witness and acknowledge your story. This story. Our story. I will continue to work with you.
Truly acknowledging the suffering and being fully present to it, brings cleansing and peace and deeper compassion to your life. We all benefit from a more true truth even if it is work to find it.
Moving forward in love and awareness,