Thanksgiving, or The U.S. Apology to All Native Peoples

Book Reviews, Poetry, Sunday Spotlight

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.

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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.

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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.

this land
ill-breaking
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boundaries

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.

 

For #NoDAPL & Native American Heritage Month: A Reading List

Sunday Spotlight
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Water protectors at North Dakota #StandingRockSioux #NoDAPL

The resistance is stronger and more alive these days — everywhere you look. From the streets of Oakland to the streets of Manila all the way to Camp Oceti Sakowin in North Dakota, people are mobilizing to stand up and resist forms of fascism, capitalism and imperialism.

In the past few months, the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota has been at the forefront of grassroots resistance. The $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline cuts through sacred land, and if completed can potentially poison waterways such as the Missouri River and Lake Oahu, the source of drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

As I write this, the entire country has just celebrated a holiday (Thanksgiving) rooted in the genocide of Native Americans. This day is followed by “Black Friday” also known as hyper-capitalism as throngs of people descend retail stores and malls for discounted goods. The irony is not lost.

There are many ways of supporting the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe — signing petitions, participating in actions and mobilizations, calling the Army Corp Engineers, emailing the executives of Energy Transfer Partners L.P., donating to the camp — and I think that each one contributes in large and meaningful ways calling for an end to this pipeline.

On Thanksgiving morning at around 5:00 in the morning, I boarded a ferry to Alcatraz, once the home of Native Americans in the Bay Area, to commemorate and mourn the massacre of 700 Pequots killed that day. More than ever, the struggles of Native Americans back then against their colonizers is still evident today.

History repeats itself and if there’s anything that this blog aims contribute to the struggles of Native Americans, it is to foster consciousness among its readers through literature. November is also Native American Heritage Month and I am grateful for blogs like Literary Hub and Read Diverse Books who have compiled books by Native American writers. What’s happening in North Dakota isn’t isolated — it’s backed by centuries of genocide, colonialism and resistance of the Native American people that all of us should know.

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Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (April 14, 1997)
Fergus M. Bordewich
(History/Politics)

 

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Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
(May 15, 2007)
Dee Brown
(History/Politics)

 

everything
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask
(May 1, 2012)
Anton Treuer
(Popular History)

 

larose
LaRose: A Novel
(May 10, 2016)
Louise Erdrich
(Fiction)

 

blasphemy
Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories
(October 8, 2013)
Sherman Alexie
(Memoir)

 

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Love Beyond Body, Space & Time: An Indigenous LGBT Sci-fi Anthology (September 30, 2016)
Hope Nicholson, David Alexander Robertson, Richard Van Camp, Daniel Health Justice
(Anthology)

 

woman
The Woman Who Owned The Shadows
(May 1, 1984)
Paula Gunn Allen
(Fiction)

 

This list is by no means exhaustive, but starting points as the First Nation Development Institute recommends. Check out the Native American Heritage Month book recommendations here, Literary Hub’s list here as well as the list from Read Diverse Books here.