This Thanksgiving, I am thinking about more than the concept of "thankfulness." For me, and many others, Thanksgiving is also a day to mourn. We get this idea that commercialized holidays are supposed to be perpetually happy (even annoyingly so), and that everything is all good. Newsflash: That is not life. Life is dynamic: simple and complicated all at the same time. Life is full of feelings, and feeling alive does not equate to feeling happy all the time. Being aware and mindful means that we are no longer ignorant, and no longer blissful. It means that we see beyond our own lives, beyond our own reality. This being said, Thanksgiving will forever be a day of emotion, of feeling life, and it's full spectrum of grief and praise.
Thanksgiving's apparent purpose is to celebrate the hospitality of natives when Europeans first came to America. Everyone knows the story of the “first thanksgiving,” since the event has been played out by elementary schoolers across the country for years, cultural appropriation abound.
The indigenous people of this land and the foreigners shared a feast of the land’s bounty, which was indeed bountiful before it was colonized and exploited by Westerners. Sound familiar?
At this feast, they ate wild game and turkey.
Today, America factory farms a bastardized variation of these same birds, treating them as products rather than animals — living, breathing, feeling beings. During Thanksgiving season, families flock to supermarkets to buy pounds and pounds of turkey meat, many not thinking about what that animal suffered through to be on their plates. On the very holiday dedicated to giving “thanks,” we give very little thought let alone thankfulness to the animals that suffer for our gluttony.
At this feast, the Native American people gave graciously to the pilgrims.
Since then, white man has taken. Taken until these people have had nothing.
My culture — the “American” culture, the Western ideology — has raped, pillaged, killed, and oppressed native people for hundreds of years. My consumeristic, self-entitled culture has taken this land as theirs. We have committed cultural genocide against every native culture: killing them, converting them, telling them that their culture is wrong. We have uprooted them, transplanted them, concentrated them onto small reservations, and then contaminated the little land set aside for them. We have ignored their beliefs and their wishes, and we have destroyed and disrespected all that is sacred to them. We took everything we could, and what little we didn't take, we contaminated.
And we continue to do these very injustices.
If Native American’s were given the respect they deserve today, Peabody Coal Mine would have never opened on the Navajo Reservation, slurrying the little water they have away. Abandoned uranium mines would not litter the same reservation, exposing families to harmful, radioactive contamination. Dakota Access Pipeline would not need hundreds of protestors to prove the point that water is sacred, that Native American voices matter. Instead, the coal, mineral, and other resource mining companies that our very own president-elect supports have more power to rip up the land, contaminate the water, and poison the people than the people have to defend themselves and the land they love.
If Native American’s were given the respect they deserve today, food deserts would not exist on Reservations. Politicians would listen. The confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, a sacred site to indigenous people, would be safe from development. The sacred San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff would not be an overdeveloped tourist attraction that sprays unsafe, environmentally degrading and socially disrespectful water all over the place.
Thanksgiving can be a beautiful holiday. It brings families together to celebrate being thankful for each other and for life. However, there is something backwards about how it all happens. We are thankful for food, so we unconsciously gorge ourselves. We are thankful for the hospitality of Native Americans, yet they were not considered citizens until the 1920s, and were not given many basic rights until much later. We are thankful for all we have, yet at midnight it is custom to trample each other at the mall to buy as much stuff as we can for the lowest price on Black Friday.
Although we should be giving thanks every day of our lives, at the core, I do believe that Thanksgiving is special in that it gives us a chance to come together and love our friends, our families, and our world. But, that should always come with awareness.
On this day, I am thankful for my education. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn and become aware of the underlying reality of America’s situation, and what this holiday really is — what it really means.
With this awareness, my heart aces. My heart aches every day for the loss of humanity’s connection to nature, to our Mother. I weep for the rape of the land, the exploitation of the Real World. Today, my heart aches for the people who never have and never will deserve the pain and suffering that they have endured since Europe made contact to the Americas. I weep for my Native American friends whose ancestors have suffered, and who suffer today with the continuation of injustice and exploitation. I weep for the past, and I weep for the present: for the fact that I live within an hour drive of lands that are being destroyed by people who don’t own it, understand it, or care about — and people who are oppressed by my culture.
I weep because I will never truly understand what it is like to suffer as these people have and do.
No one, so long as your skin tone marks your privilege, will ever truly understand what it feels like. We can only speculate, we can only imagine, and we can only compare it to the suffering that we experience in our own lives.
I weep, yet this is motivation to make change; and I will do my damn best to do what I can in this lifetime to foster the connection between humanity and our Mother Earth, be the voice to those who do not have voices, and bring justice to those who have been suppressed.
This Thanksgiving, and for every year after, I challenge every person to experience this day with mindfulness.
Love your family, love your fellow Humans, love your fellow living beings, and love your Mother Earth. Always be aware of the praise — however, always be aware of the grief.