I know I’m a dreamer, but I still believe stories will save us. I still believe stories are the ultimate teacher. I still believe stories are the most effective way to convey truth and empathy and understanding.
As I was preparing this week’s column, I came across so many articles dealing with the truth about Thanksgiving, and ultimately decided to devote this week’s Must Reads solely to Native American voices and issues. I haven’t come close to covering all the stories that need to be told and all the issues that need to be raised, but this week’s articles are a beginning.
While Thanksgiving Day 2017 is over and National Native American Heritage Month is about to end, now is a perfect time to invest in discovering the truth behind the “holiday”, behind the Native grief and Day of Mourning. It’s the perfect time to open our minds and listen to the atrocities to which we close our eyes, to the stories that will break our hearts, to the Native insights that many of us have refused to recognize.
I have no wisdom here. I’m a white woman who as a teenager sat glued to the black and white tv in the winter of 1973, watching, as my heart pounded, the siege at Wounded Knee. That’s when I began reading Native writers. That’s when I tried to learn all I could about the true history of Native Americans and specifically the details of the “settling” of the American West. I am still reading, still trying to educate myself.
I will end this week’s introduction with a poem I love by Joy Harjo, a poem I used to teach to my mostly white students. Please take the time to delve into the many stories and articles included in this week’s column. There is much to learn, much to listen to. Your comments are always welcome.
Anchorage by Joy Harjo
for Audre Lorde
This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish.
There are Chugatch Mountains to the east
and whale and seal to the west.
It hasn’t always been this way, because glaciers
who are ice ghosts create oceans, carve earth
and shape this city here, by the sound.
They swim backwards in time.
Once a storm of boiling earth cracked open
the streets, threw open the town.
It’s quiet now, but underneath the concrete
is the cooking earth, and above that, air
which is another ocean, where spirits we can’t see
are dancing joking getting full
on roasted caribou, and the praying
goes on, extends out.
Nora and I go walking down 4th Avenue
and know it is all happening.
On a park bench we see someone’s Athabascan
grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years
of blood and piss, her eyes closed against some
unimagined darkness, where she is buried in an ache
in which nothing makes sense.
We keep on breathing, walking, but softer now,
the clouds whirling in the air above us.
What can we say that would make us understand
better than we do already?
Except to speak of her home and claim her
as our own history, and know that our dreams
don’t end here, two blocks away from the ocean
where our hearts still batter away at the muddy shore.
And I think of the 6th Avenue jail, of mostly Native
and Black men, where Henry told about being shot at
eight times outside a liquor store in L.A., but when
the car sped away he was surprised he was alive,
no bullet holes, man, and eight cartridges strewn
on the sidewalk all around him.
Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it,
but also the truth. Because who would believe
the fantastic and terrible story of all of our survival
those who were never meant to survive?
From Minaj’s post to “Pocahottie” Halloween costumes to historical images of Indian maidens eager to be saved by white men, the sexualization of Native women is prominent in American pop culture. Response to Minaj was swift: Hundreds of commenters posted about violence against Native women and noted that Pocahontas was not a fictional “princess” but a real-life teenager who was raped and victimized. Others pointed out that they didn’t have opposition to Minaj’s original Paper Magazine cover, as it was her choice, but Pocahontas did not have that agency.
“Rendered Invisible Pocahontas Is Not A Sex Symbol”/ by Abaki Beck/ bitch media/ November 20, 2017
2. Looking at the shape of the world, I see how we’re in a time where women are the subject of hatred, fear, and we have to fight that all the time. I feel that there are fights we take for granted. When I look at the world, I see that women are subject to cruelty. And that’s why the global gag rule means so much to me, that the United States wouldn’t stand up for the rights and health of women.
“Louise Erdrich: Reproductive Nightmares, Real and Imagined”/ by Joanna R. Demkiewicz/ Guernica/ November 20, 2017
3. We are still holding the Island of Alcatraz in the true names of Freedom, Justice and Equality, because you, our brothers and sisters of this earth, have lent support to our just cause. We reach out our hands and hearts and send spirit messages to each and every one of you—WE HOLD THE ROCK…. We have learned that violence breeds only more violence and we therefore have carried on our occupation of Alcatraz in a peaceful manner, hoping that the government of these United States will also act accordingly….
“Indian Resistance and Thanksgiving Declarations”/ howardzinn.org/ November 17, 2014
4. Kaepernick said in a Twitter post with a video that he joined the ceremony Thursday “in solidarity with those celebrating their culture and paying respects to those that participated in the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz.”
“‘Our Fight is the Same Fight’: Kaepernick Visits Alcatraz in Support of ‘Unthanksgiving Day’”/ by Kalin Kipling/ The Sacremento Bee/ November 23, 2017
5. We are invisible. Take it from me. I travel a lot, and often ask this question: Can you name 10 indigenous nations? Often, no one can name us. The most common nations named are Lakota, Cherokee, Navajo, Cheyenne and Blackfeet — mostly native people from western movies. This is the problem with history. If you make the victim disappear, there is no crime. And we just disappeared. When I travel, I get this feeling someone has seen a unicorn in the airport.
“Thanksgiving for Native Americans: Four Voices on a Complicated Holiday”/ by Julie Turkewitz/ New York Times/ November 23, 2017
6. “Thanksgiving” for native nations in America is like a rape victim receiving a “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” card from their attacker on the date of the attack. Then, annually seeing their (unpunished) rapist wear a t-shirt commemorating the day of the rape with the caption, “TIME WELL SPENT.”
“Reclaiming Thanksgiving: How I Learned to Embrace a Holiday that Represents Everything I’m Against”/ by D. Watkins/ Salon/ November 24, 2016
7. Autumn Peltier already has years of advocacy behind her. She’s met the prime minister, she’s attended the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly and she’s marched on the highway in the name of water protection. At just 13 years old, Peltier is now a nominee for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
“This 13-Year-Old Indigenous Girl Has Been Nominated for a Global Peace Prize”/ by Jackie Marchildon/ Global Citizen/ October 10, 2017
8. Pocahontas, like so many Native women today, survived rape, abuse, and kidnapping. Today, in the United States, Native women are more likely to be raped, beaten, battered, and/or murdered than any other U.S. population. The United States Department of Justice’s National Criminal Justice Reference Service reports that the majority of violent crimes committed against Native Americans are committed by non-Natives. To make matters worse, in 1978, in the case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the United States Supreme Court declared that our Tribal Nations can no longer exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who come onto tribal lands and commit crimes. This means our Nations have been stripped of their inherent authority to protect us against the majority of crimes committed on our lands, against us.
“Her Name is Pocahontas”/ by Mary Kathryn Nagle/ shondaland/ November 22, 2017
9. At noon on every Thanksgiving Day, hundreds of Native people from around the country gather at Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, for the National Day of Mourning. It is an annual tradition started in 1970, when Wampanoag Wamsutta (Frank) James was invited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give a speech at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival and then disinvited after the event organizers discovered his speech was one of outrage over the “atrocities” and “broken promises” his people endured.
“The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story”/ by Michelle Tirado/ Indian Country Today/ November 23, 2011
10. My father, who was among the fugitives in Canada, had been betrayed by a half-breed [metis] across the United States line, near what is now the city of Winnipeg. Some of the party were hanged at Fort Snelling, near St. Paul. We supposed, and, in fact, we were informed that all were hanged. This was why my uncle, in whose family I lived, had taught me never to spare a white man from the United States.
“The Original Native American Memoirist”/ by Charles Eastman/ Literary Hub/ October 12, 2015
11. (6) I too urge the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land although healing this land is not dependent never has been upon this President meaning tribal nations and the people themselves are healing this land its waters with or without Presidential acknowledgment they act upon this right without apology:
“Layli Long Soldier Confronts the Duplicitous Language of the U.S. Government”/ by Layli Long Soldier/ Literary Hub/ March 7, 2017
12. We ask everyone to remember that for the Water Protectors who are still facing criminal charges the trauma and harm from police and other state violence at Standing Rock is still ongoing. Over 300 cases remain pending in North Dakota courts, including over a dozen from this night at Backwater Bridge one year ago. We also have six Water Protectors preparing for federal criminal trials – the first will be Red Fawn at the end of January 2018.
“One Year Since the Battle of Backwater Bridge”/ Water Protector Legal Collective/ November 20, 2017
13. On a Monday in early August I find myself spooning soil from Geronimo’s grave at a prisoner of war cemetery in Oklahoma into a double ziplock bag I bought at Target. I will carry this soil, by car and bus, to Guachochi, a provincial Mexican town in the Sierra Madre Occidental. There, three Mexican sisters who recently traced their ancestry to this famous Apache medicine man are about to hold a Ceremonia del Perdón—a Ceremony of Forgiveness. The soil is my gift to them.
“Forgiving the Unforgivable: Geronimo’s Descendants Seek to Salve Generational Trauma/ by Anna Badkhen/ Literary Hub/ November 21, 2017
14. My family does not celebrate Thanksgiving, as we do not celebrate our colonizers’ holidays. I live in the one of the poorest places in the country, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, which is a three hours’ drive away from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. My family does not have enough money to have a feast for Thanksgiving, and neither do most families on reservations. Thanksgiving is not a holiday to us — it is a day of mourning. If this seems radical or overdramatic, look back at everything I just told you. You might see why we feel this way.
“I Live On A Reservation 3 Hours From Standing Rock. This Is What My “Thanksgiving” Looks Like”/ by Andreanne Catt/ Bustle/ November 22, 2017
15. “From having had no speakers for six generations to having 500 students attend some sort of class in the last 25 years?” Baird told The AP. “It’s more than I could have ever expected in my lifetime.”
“Four Centuries After the First Thanksgiving, the Mashpee Wampanoag Fight to Reclaim Their Language”/ by Sameer Rao/ Colorlines/ November 22, 2017
16. The acknowledgment of historic wrongs, especially where marginalized people are concerned, is often slow in coming in an America raised on victory culture, where war and progress have become irreproachable synonyms of a sort. It is, however, deeply traumatic events such as the Sand Creek Massacre and the ways in which we remember and memorialize them that lay bare the ironies of frontier historicism, where the gulf that lies between stagnant orthodoxies and nuanced accounts of interlinked stories and experiences can seem interminable.
“Our Thanksgiving responsibility: Native Americans, honest history and the simple power of remembrance”/ by Billy J. Sratton/ Salon/ November 29, 2014
17. Thanksgiving—a holiday that requires some “collective cultural and political amnesia” about the violence that white people inflicted on indigenous Americans (“It’s a sham, but it’s a sham with yams. It’s a yam sham.”)—is upon us, the situation at Standing Rock seems to get worse by the day, and hey, we have a new racist president-elect gearing up to take over the country. So this seems like a pretty good time to read some books by indigenous authors. It’s not the same as taking action, of course, but for a little bit of perspective, empathy, and support, check out these ten works of fiction by indigenous writers that you should know about. After all, with a Thanksgiving as divisive as this one may be (depending on your family), you might be looking for good reasons to hide yourself away with a book.
“Ten Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Read”/ by Emily Temple/ Literary Hub/ November 23, 2016
Joyce Hayden left her university teaching job two years ago in order to pursue her own artistic work. An assemblage artist, painter, and writer, Joyce is currently in the process of acquiring an agent to represent her memoir, The Out of Body Girl, which describes her 8 year relationship with a charismatic gambler and the dangerous road that eventually led to her freedom. Her chapbook of poems, Lost Handprint, is forthcoming from Dandelion Review. A freelance editor and writing coach, Joyce’s writing services and a selection of her artwork can be found at her website joycehayden.com. Joyce is available for commission art work, including celebration shrines for loved ones and pets.