To many Americans, Thanksgiving is a day for eating pumpkin pie, stuffing, and cornbread, while surrounded by people you love. Thanksgiving also happens to have always been my favorite holiday, and each year is a great opportunity to display appreciation for friends and family. From the time I was in elementary school, I can clearly remember happily making crafts and decorations of paper pilgrims, cornucopias and turkeys, but I now realize how blinded I was to the unfortunate truth behind the holiday.
What I recall learning as a kid was essentially this: the flee from religious persecution, pilgrims sailing from England, and these pilgrims and Indians all sitting down for a big pleasant feast, to celebrate a plentiful harvest with the tribe that helped make it possible. As kids, we are shielded from the facts of not only what happened to Native Americans during Western colonization of this country, but also what is still happening to Native Americans today. Granted, it is not necessarily fit to expose children to the violence within the history of the holiday. However, this only makes it more important to divert one’s attention to the fact that for native people, Thanksgiving is eternally associated with the legacy of violence brought onto indigenous communities since the establishment of our country.
It’s easy for us each year to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade from our living room TV’s, and celebrate the professed brave sacrifices of the first European migrants to American land. But if you were to take the time to travel to the quiet park of Coles Hill in Massachusetts with native people and their supporters, you would see a very different visual. You would find a solemn, spiritual and highly political, national day of mourning. To these natives, this day, is simply a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands -essentially the destruction of their culture.
The past is littered with stories of Native Americans attempting to protect their lands, but it is not only history. Indigenous people are fighting over preservation of their sacred lands as we speak. Today, Native American tribes are protesting at the Standing Rock Reservation in attempt to prevent the construction of a 1,200 mile oil pipeline just ½ a mile from their reservation. Although this pipeline does not directly travel through the reservation, the Dakota Access pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, therefore threatening the primary drinking water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Oil contamination of groundwater poses a potential danger to public health, and is a widespread issue. Incidents such as Deepwater horizon, and oil in the Yellowstone River serve as proof of this. The Standing Rock Sioux is a tribe of around 10,000 with a reservation in the central parts of North and South Dakota. This protest began as the original path of the pipeline was moved due to concerns from residents about the ecological impact of its original route. In turn, the new route created by the federal government and private businesses placed this pipeline through sacred land. In addition, the US Army Corps of Engineers failed to adhere to the federal mandate for meaningful consultation with the Standing Rock Tribe before signing off on this new route.
The pipeline was to be constructed across the Missouri River within the designated area of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. Under this treaty, this land was designated for Native American usage, but has now been resold to the multi-billion corporation of Energy Transfer Partners. Not only does this construction potentially jeopardize the tribe’s water supply, but the pipeline would additionally disturb access and/or cut off Native American burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has been opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline since 2014, but only recently has this issue gained national attention, and even now it’s still lacking mainstream media coverage.
More than five hundred protesters-or water protectors- have been arrested, and on October 27th alone, at least 141 people were arrested, many charged with trespassing (on their own land). Energy Transfer Partners have met water protectors with private security guards using attack dogs. They have worked with law enforcement and the National Guard to create a militarized response, and have locked up hundreds of protesters in wire cages. Forces have used pepper spray, rubber bullets, and concussion cannons against these protesters. The Standing Rock Sioux received a letter from the Army Corps of Engineers dated November 25 (the day after Thanksgiving) stating that everyone must leave Army Corps land by December 5, or otherwise be arrested. But as the brutal winter approaches, it seems as if the protesters are not giving up this fight. Veterans, celebrities, and people from all over the world have joined together in providing support and supplies for these protesters.
Although Thanksgiving has passed, it’s important to remember the people whose holiday is not encompassed by pumpkin pie, stuffing, and cornbread. These tribes exist, and not only as Disney characters or Halloween costumes, but as struggling citizens of our country. Only if we are brave enough to confront these realities that are continuously overlooked, can we move forward together for a brighter future. By openly acknowledging these injustices, we can work towards a future all Americans are able to be thankful for.