In 2009, the United States issued an S.J. Res. 14 “to acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.”
Thanksgiving has been synonymous to a long holiday weekend, a table laden with food, a time to spend (sometimes uncomfortably) with family, a holiday bespectacled with gratitude and warmth.
My immigrant family has adopted this tradition for over a decade now, although the only thing that resembles the traditional American celebration is a barely-touched turkey at the end of the evening. The tables are usually filled with Filipino dishes and an assortment of sweets, pies and dessert, as conversations toggle between the best Black Friday sales and what’s happening back in our hometown of Apalit, Pampanga.
I have participated in all of this, but because I am a product of my own curiosity and more and more, a stickler for authenticity, I remember trying to figure out where Thanksgiving came from and what it really stood for. That was back in 2004.
I was horrified as soon as I found out. I was coming of age, coming out, coming to terms with trying to acculturate in a new land, only to find out that this land was actually built on the genocide of Native Americans.
I think of all these things as I currently reside in Northern California — Ohlone land. I don’t get a lot of things right but there is a constant re-education interwoven with love, respect, history and memory; an acknowledgment of a reality rooted in the loss of lives of many tribes and indigenous people.
So I remember, I honor in the best ways I can: this Thanksgiving, an homage to the work of Layli Long Soldier, an Oglala Lakota poet, writer and artist.
On Saturday, December 19, 2009, US President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. No tribal leaders or official representatives were invited to witness and receive the Apology on behalf of tribal nations. President Obama never read the Apology aloud, publicly — although, for the record, Senator Sam Brownback five months later read the Apology to a gathering of five tribal leaders, though there are more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the US. The Apology was then folded into a larger, unrelated piece of legislation called the 2010 Defense Appropriation Act.
My response is directed to the Apology’s delivery, as well as the language, crafting, and arrangement of the written document. I am a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation — and in this dual citizenship, I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.
I started reading Whereas on the eve of Thanksgiving, in the same year the #NoDAPL camps were forcibly closed, where Native Americans, allies and protesters stood in defiance of a pipeline project which cuts across Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
I have so many questions regarding the Apology and its language, its delivery as Long Soldier writes, one of only seven apologies made to Native Americans. It reads like someone’s troubled conscience trying to appease itself of its mistakes, without undermining its inequitable gains.
Some parts of it are downright offensive, some playing it safe. Some are affirmative, some negating. Some hopeful, some guaranteed to elicit long sighs.
It almost reads like poetry, Long Soldier says, in an interview with Krista Tippet. In her book Whereas, she writes rightful responses to this Apology as she maps out words, pain, history, remembrance and the right to life.
Her poem-responses carry the weight of what wasn’t written down, of what wasn’t acknowledged. They relay the untold stories and the depth of what should’ve been read out loud. She writes about living conditions, mental care, how the Apology was followed by budget sequestration.
And instead of the haphazard ways the U.S. government has continued to treat this issue, the people, Native American lives, Long Soldier offers solutions, poems on what the Apology could’ve looked like.
Bring this to the table, bring this with you. Bring Long Soldier’s poetry in the arcs of your mouths, in the same manner that you say thanks.
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.