Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Black and Red Thanksgiving

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A Black and Red Thanksgiving

This time of year always fills me with deep contradictions. To be blunt, Thanksgiving, in its purest form, is a celebration of the eventual subjugation, domination, and massacre of millions of indigenous people of this land. As a man who is a proud member of the Ojibwe nation, I viscerally feel disgust at the roots of this holiday and all it represents to those that carry the burden of history.

As a person descended from slaves, who still has family in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, the place where my family was held in bondage, I was taught that Thanksgiving was a time to celebrate our freedom and the strength of family and community that got us through and brought us over. Thanksgiving is the celebration of our metaphorical crossing of the River Jordan or, perhaps, the Ohio River.

The truth is that Thanksgiving should be a time where we honor the spirits of those living and dead that fought, bled, and died so that our communities could survive. It is a time to gather around us our friends and family and to show them through words, food, and laughter that we appreciate their presence and their love. But it is also a time of obligation.

No two peoples living on this land known as the United States of America have such a tragic and intertwined history as African-Americans and Native Americans. Throughout our shared history of enslavement and genocide, forced labor and forceable removal from our homelands, our fates have touched one anothers: sometimes in acts of solidarity such as the taking in of runaway slaves by the Cherokee and Seminole and other native nations, and sometimes in acts of violence where slaves served with continental armies participating in the massacre of indigenous communities and indigenous communities that served whites as slave catchers.

Since the end of slavery, the relationship between African-Americans and Native Americans has,again, sometimes been one of solidarity such as the brown/black power movements of the 1960s and sometimes one of betrayal, such as the stripping of citizenship from black members of the western Cherokee Nation earlier this year.

Yet the truth remains that at this time of profound social change opportunity, leaders of the African-American community and leaders of both urban Indian and Indian nations should be working together on common goals related to sovreignity, reperations, and reclamation. At times the survival of entire segments of the black community have depended on our native brothers and sisters. That history was, intentionally, kept quiet by mainstream authorities. Divide and conquer has always been their primary tactic.

This Thanksgiving, I challenge our communities to committ to not only celebrating our freedom and our family but also developing strategies to build deep relationships with our native kin. In Humboldt County, California, a small grassroots collective called Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) has partnered with the Seventh Generation Fund on a relatively new project called the Honor Tax. The two organizations are working closely with small businesses, non-profit organizations, and individual citizens encouraging them to make a yearly tax payment to the Wiyot Nation. The nation on whose lands Humboldt County sits. This is not a charitable contribution but a tax payment acknowledging that the land itself is not owned by those who sit on it but by the peoples that historically belong to it.

These are the types of endeavours that should be championed by people of African descent. If we, the grandchildren of those held in bondage, are to righteously, and justly, demand reparations in recognition of the trillions of dollars of wealth created from our unpaid labor, then it is our moral and civil obligation to advocate for at least as much for the indigenous peoples of the United States. In the end, it is my hope that one day all of this land will be restored to those from whom it was taken, but until that day comes, it is our duty to work hand in hand to hold up and restore each other as we collectively move towards a just and liberated future. Let's transform Thanksgiving into a holiday of thanks for each other and an opportunity to create new river crossings on black and red bridges.

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