Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Re-teach Thanksgiving. Do It For the 99%

Ella Sekatau, Naragansett tribal historian: "The truth is the truth is the truth. And it's just waiting to be discovered." From Language of America: An Indian Story
If you've never had the experience of re-teaching Thanksgiving and its chummy feast between settlers and natives, you might give it a try. It can take a form as simple as that of a five year-old who raised her hand during a Columbus Day presentation to say, “My grammy says that Columbus was a really bad man.” Or it could be based on a native text like Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, or the hair-raising first chapter of Zinn's A People's History of the United States. For the multimedia crowd, consider a documentary like Language of America: An Indian Story or We're Still Here. Whichever tools you choose, and especially if you have a young audience, you could find the experience exhilarating

It would be especially fitting this year when the stakes are so high, what with the future of human life on the planet up for grabs. Starting in Kindergarten, most USians are exposed to a feel-good version of encounter between Wampanog people and European settlers who arrived by boat to begin the most extensive land grab in history. According to my sources, i.e. the students, teachers return to this narrative every November ad nauseum, right up through 5th or 8th or 11th grade, where the glorious history of U.S. domination of the hemisphere is examined in even more warped detail.

Sure, the Native Americans did help Europeans learn to feed themselves – and were rewarded by being robbed, murdered, pressed into slavery, and run off their land. A long string of ugly encounters between, on the one hand, cultures marked by consensus, egalitarian practices, and sharing, and on the other, a culture marked by greed, hierarchies, and negotiating in bad faith.
Jessie Littledoe Baird, Wampanog language reclamation worker. From Language of America: An Indian Story
Speaking for non-white citizens of the state that displaced 500 indigenous nations, Malcolm X famously observed, “We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us!” In 5th grade my son gave a stellar rendition of brother Malcolm's speech for book character day. The blue-haired ladies of the Daughters of the American Revolution did not like the righteously-angry-Black-man character; they gave first prize to Pippi Longstocking. This infuriated my son's teacher, but I wasn't mad, because it was far more educational for a white kid to experience discrimination than it would have been to have won the contest.
I'm flying right now over the lands we stole from people who chose their leaders based on who was, not just the best hunter, but the most generous provider; people who used consensus among women to select the wisest women, who in turn selected the leaders – and, if necessary, removed them. When I look down from my carbon-belching ride to grandmother's house I see roads covering up arable land, and the grid-like pattern that private ownership generates as a means of control. That ownership of commons – potable water, wild food, oxygen – was nonsensical to Native American tribes suggests the wisdom of grandmothers, a group less concerned with status among individuals than with survival by the group as a whole.
I especially like this video of Marama, a Maori woman who points out to Occupy Aukland and elsewhere the need for "remembering the indigenous people, here and around the world, who have been opposing these systems forever."

In the same vein, check out this spirited exchange of comments on a recent Mondoweiss post The problem with ‘occupation’ in the occupy movement.

A lively discussion could ensue at your family table this holiday: about why Occupy Everywhere could and should be a path back to the wisdom of sustainable cultures on the pre-occupation Earth; about why Palestine is colonially occupied, and what your largely invisible role in that is; about why the financial disenfranchisement of the offspring of privileged white colonizers could provide a tremendous step forward in our making common cause with all people of the the planet; about why it's so difficult under patriarchy to hold a space for voices that need to be heard to be heard.

It's all related, and leads me to the delight of working with the next generation. Onward, children! who understand as the indigenous grandmothers always did that Earth is the one and only home of the 99%. I am thankful for you.

Video of Pres. Obama being mic checked at a high school in NH this week. "Mr. President - Over 4,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested while banksters continue to destroy the economy with impunity. You must stop the assault on our 1st Amendment rights. Your silence sends a message that police brutality is acceptable. Banks got bailed out, we got sold out."

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