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
“apologizes”
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.

 

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Cue the fireworks, fire up the grills, get the hotdogs and burgers ready. Fourth of July in the U.S. has been synonymous to picnics and cookouts, marking the sweet start of summer.

I remember a few hard facts from my political science classes: that the 13 American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain this day, that the United States of America was born and instituted by the Continental Congress, that it is a day for celebrating the country’s independence.

For immigrants like myself, this holiday is a glorious three-day weekend, a welcome respite to the drudgery of the 9 to 5. The same goes for my family and many immigrants; it is a chance to breathe a little longer, prepare for the toiling weeks of labor ahead. The truth is, the holiday reinforces what many come to this country for: to achieve the American Dream. I am reminded of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poem:  

The old men who have lived here stare at us,
from deep disturbed eyes, sulking, retreated.
We pass them as they stand around idle,
leaning on shovels and rakes or against walls.
Our expectations are high: in the old world,
they talked about rehabilitation,
about being able to finish school,
and learning an extra good trade.
But right away we are sent to work as dishwashers,
to work in fields for three cents an hour.
The administration says this is temporary
So we go about our business, blacks with blacks,
poor whites with poor whites,
chicanos and indians by themselves.
The administration says this is right,
no mixing of cultures, let them stay apart,
like in the old neighborhoods we came from.

Immigrants in our own land

Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m reading Yaa Gyasi’s book Homegoing, which revolves around the lives of generations of slaves from the Gold Coast — from their childhood to their time of capture, from the dungeons where they were imprisoned and then aboard the ships which sailed to America, from the plantations to a semblance of freedom for a black man and his family in Baltimore. I read about Esi and Ness and Kojo and remember that the struggle for black folks still isn’t over, even after slavery has been abolished. I remember Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd.

The day is not only limited to the U.S., as the fourth of July is “Republic Day” as it is also the same day that the Philippines won independence from being a U.S. colony (July 4, 1945). The history of this holiday is wrought with irony (it is called “Filipino-American Friendship Day”), but I think the late great historian Howard Zinn could not be any more right:

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”

Howard Zinn’s July 4 Wisdom Stands the Test of Time

Last June 30th, the Philippines just inaugurated its newly elected president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte. While he is being vilified by the Western media because of his vigilante-style tactics of fighting crime, there are a lot of things worth noting: his cabinet appointments to specific departments (labor, agrarian reform and social welfare) were all from progressive-left and his willingness to resume peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (Read: 10 Things to Know About the Peace Talks Between the Communists and the Gov’t of the Philippines). I’m hoping that this president won’t be a U.S. puppet unlike his predecessors.

Any talk of independence would not be complete without the history of Native Americans, whose culture and population were decimated upon the arrival of the British and the establishment of the colonies. It seems like the celebration of independence in the Philippines on July 4th (before it was moved back to June 12th) was preceded by what happened in Native American communities:

More than 12,000 American Indians served during World War I, and after the war, the American flag began to be given a prominent position at American Indian gatherings, especially those held on the 4th of July. This symbol of patriotism and national unity is carried into powwow and rodeo arenas today. It is extremely important to note that before the Reservation Era, when most Indians saw the American flag coming toward their villages and camps, it symbolized conflict, death, and destruction.

Indian Country: Do American Indians
Celebrate the 4th of July?

The U.S. is currently engaged in three wars, along with missions of militarizing parts of the world where it sees fit. What is imperialism Obama-style? 800 military bases around the world.

While I am a U.S. citizen, aware of the benefits I receive by living in this country, I struggle with all of these contradictions everyday. To live in the belly of the beast and to belong to the Filipino diaspora is a compelling reason enough to act, to understand the political and personal stake.

Just yesterday, Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate and writer Elie Wiesel died at the age of 87. May his life, words and work be an inspiration to those of us who refuse to forget, to those of us who live with our histories and to those of us who are committed to the struggle.

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Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016)

 

Sunday Spotlight: Some Meat for the Fourth

Sunday Spotlight