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An American Indian Gathering at Thanksgiving

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Hundreds of American Indians from dozens of North American tribes, and more or less equal numbers of their supporters, join together every Thanksgiving Day since 1969 in Plymouth Massachusetts to commemorate, in a political, social, and sacred gathering, the historic and ongoing tragedy inflicted on the Native Peoples of the Americas since 1492, as well as to celebrate the triumph of their physical and cultural survival. It is called a National Day of Mourning gathering.
The ceremony begins on a hill directly above Plymouth Rock. All of the speakers are exclusively Native People. It is their day. They are evenly divided young and old, men and women, Some speak to the crowd in the language of their ancestors. There is always drumming, a poem or two, an explicit invocation offered to the Great Spirit who unites all beings, and to our Mother Earth, in gratitude for her strength and support. The crowd is as diverse and multiracial as any you will see anywhere. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Arab American, Asian Americans. Indian veterans with US military serve are honored. Indian women are honored. Children honored. The elders honored.
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A letter is read from Leonard Peltier. There are calls for the release of all political prisoners. The American corporate elite and military establishment are excoriated for our government's policies in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama is challenged to meet his responsibilities and promises to Native People for jobs, housing, and educational aid. The true history of the first Thanksgiving is recalled, a day first set aside in the late 1600's by the then governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, not as we are falsely taught in gratitude to the native Wampanoag People for sharing their knowledge of agriculture with the first Pilgrims, but as a day of thanksgiving to the Christian God for the safe return of armed colonial troops after they had massacred a village of over 300 Pequod men, women, and children in Mystic Connecticut.
A comparison is made to the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people for their land and liberty with the struggle of the Native Americans for their land and their liberty, "our land and liberty" the speaker says, and the crowd responds, "Ho." The inordinately disproportionate armed power used by the Israeli Army against the Palestinian people is compared to the disproportionate power the European settlers/invaders used against the Native American people. The attack and subsequent siege of the Gazan people is compared to the massacres, oppression, and brutalization of the Native American people.
There is a march through town. People chant responsively. The group pauses at Plymouth Rock. Deprecating remarks are made about the small rock with the numbers 1620 carved in it that is kept in a cage, about the symbolism of its imprisonment, about how "the Native Americans didn't land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us." People always laugh.
The aggressive warrior history of the United States against Native People around the globe is recounted. The racism of it. The greed. The waste. The folly. A speaker says that universal health care could easily be provided to all Americans if the wars were ended. Someone in the crowd yells, "Healthcare, not warfare." The crowd responds, "Ho." The absolutely insulting and painful racism manifest by a team named the "Redskins," who are hosted in our nation's capital, is booed, is actually felt, like a punch below the belt.
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The march ends in front of the church where Chief Metacomet's severed head was displayed on a pike for over twenty years. The barbarism of the Christian settlers is noted. The six directions are honored. The crowd turns to the east where the day begins, to the south and then the west where the day ends, to the north where our brothers and sisters of the ice are experiencing the very melting of their homelands, to the sky, everyone looking upward, and to the earth below, three hundred people on their knees, their palms touching the ground, a patch of grass, a tree. And when we arise the ceremony is over.
Then, in what seems like a miracle to me each year, the Indian people actually host and efficiently feed all three hundred of their friends and guests in attendance at the gathering in the basement of the church. And a bountiful and lavish feast it is - of turkey, stuffing, venison, fry bread, salads, dozens of deserts, everything donated, all in excess, with leftovers galore, and plastic containers provided in advance so that participants can take home the extra canned goods, organic carrots, potatoes, breads, meats, and deserts. And there is always more than enough food. And there is never anything left on the serving table to throw away. And it is good. Hey, it is after all a social gathering in thanks giving.
I stay late each year washing pots and pans. The mood of the kitchen volunteers is joyful. The busload of Haitians, Hispanics, and American Indians from New York City is departing. A beautiful Lakota man who spoke at the ceremony shakes my hand. I ask his name and he says something like Akecheta Hota Thacha Huste Thasunke Wito Cangleska Cigala Yellow Feather Smith. Only longer. "Right," I say smiling, "I got that." Then he asks me my name. "Bruce," I say, obviously enjoying the contrast. "That's all?" he asks with mock incredulity. "Okay," I say, going with the playfulness of the moment, "Bruce Taub," which is about as short a name as you can get. "And what might that mean?" he asks, this time quite serious, And I think, perhaps for the first time in my life, about the meaning of my names strung together. "Warrior of the woods who travels under the sign for peace," I answer. "Wear it well," he says. Then we hug.
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An American Indian Gathering at Thanksgiving