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Remembering Thanksgiving

Remembering Thanksgiving

As I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of the autumnal harvest time's spiritual significance. As a time of connectedness, I pause to acknowledge what I have to be thankful for. But I also reflect on the holiday as a time of remembrance - historical and familial.

Historically, I am reminded that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration, but rather a National Day of Mourning, remembering the real significance of the first Thanksgiving in 1621 as a symbol of persecution and genocide of Native Americans and the long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

In a supposedly more enlightened, if not "post-racial," society one would think that television images of whites doing "war whoops" and "tomahawk chops," coming across your screen were buried and long gone with its troubled era of Native American relations in this country.

And when Scott Brown’s campaign in 2012 mocked Elizabeth Warren's purported Cherokee heritage, I recalled American novelist William Faulkner. He wrote in his 1951 novel Requiem for a Nun, "The past is never dead. It’s not even past."

The Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland, were right in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their actual practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil rights of Native Americans.

And because the Pilgrims' fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead, the actions of the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an annual national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush ironically - if not ignorantly - designated November as "National American Indian Heritage Month" to celebrate the history, art, and traditions of Native American people.

As we get into the holiday spirit, let us remember the whole story of the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers to the New World.

On a trip home to New York City in May 2004, I went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to view the UNESCO Slave Route Project, "Lest We Forget: the Triumph Over Slavery," that marks the United Nations General Assembly's resolution proclaiming 2004 "The International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and Its Abolition."

In highlighting that African Americans should not be shamed by slavery, but instead defiantly proud of our memory of it, I read the opening billboard to the exhibit that stated, "By institutionalizing memory, resisting the onset of oblivion, recalling the memory of tragedy that for long years remained hidden or unrecognized and by assigning it its proper place in the human conscience, we respond to our duty to remember."

It is in the spirit of our connected struggles against discrimination that we can all stand on a solid rock that rests on a multicultural foundation for a true and honest Thanksgiving.

And in so doing, it helps us to remember, respect, mourn and give thanks for the day, but not forgetting the ongoing struggle our Native American brothers and sisters face everyday - and particularly on Thanksgiving Day.