FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thanksgiving We Can Believe In

by STEVE HENDRICKS

Seven years before Tisquantum (Squanto, to most of us) helped the Pilgrims recover from their disastrous first winter in America, he was kidnapped by an English cod fisher and fur trader who was diversifying into the human trade. Tisquantum and other stock were shipped to Spain under hatch, a murderous passage, and most of the survivors were sold into slavery. Tisquantum was among the lucky, rescued by friars before he could be auctioned, though perhaps held a few years to ensure his salvation by Christ. We do not know how Tisquantum made his way to London and finagled a job as guide and interpreter on a ship bound for New England. But in 1619, four years after his abduction, he returned to America only to find his town of Patuxet in ruins and nearly all its 2,000 Wampanoags dead of European pox. When the Pilgrims arrived the following winter, they founded Plymouth on Patuxet’s remains–a cruel symbol, that.

We do not hear much of this history on Thanksgiving. We hear instead that in the spring of 1621 Tisquantum taught the Pilgrims to grown corn and catch eel. We hear that come autumn, gratitude suffused the harvest feast, that beautiful gathering of men who had seen Shakespeare in his lifetime and men ignorant of paper but living lives of plenty. These things are indeed true, but a fuller truth is that Tisquantum helped the Pilgrims as much from fear as from charity and that alongside the goodwill at the first Thanksgiving were mutual mistrust and just-restrained hostility. The mistrust, on the Wampanoags’ side at least, was well founded, as their destruction by colonial America soon proved.

America is not alone among nations in making mythology of history. Myth comforts. History, which is to say truth, instructs, often painfully. And it is a painful truth that the guns, germs, and steel of our forebears precipitated the great bloodletting that rid Indian Country of Indians and damned the few survivors to POW camps (now called reservations) where they remain the poorest, most diseased, and worst schooled among us. The link between our myth-making and their destitution is direct. For to forget that our nation virtually destroyed theirs is to absolve ourselves of a duty to make amends. We have been absolving ourselves for half a millennium now.

The consequences are written all over America’s most populous reservations, where half the men and women have no work, half their children drop out of school, and still greater majorities, adult and adolescent, rot slowly from addiction to drink and drug. The reservation birthright is an eightfold risk, compared to other Americans, of dying of tuberculosis, a twofold risk of dying in infancy, and a three- or fourfold risk of dying by one’s own hand while still a child. On reservations like South Dakota’s Pine Ridge, a boy born in 2008 can expect just 48 years of life, a girl 52. Tell them they should give thanks on this day.

Indians have, of course, tried to better their lot. But they are cursed by a dependence on the kindness of strangers far surpassing that of others who were once written out of the American dream. Blacks and Latinos, say, make up 12 and 15 percent of America and are clustered powerfully in cities and regions like the South and Southwest. But Indians make up just 1 percent of America and are thinly scattered across its lands. They haven’t the numbers to demand power. Nor have they the natural resources to build wealth, power’s proxy. (Only a tiny handful of America’s 562 tribes, to dispel another myth, enjoy casino or mineral riches.)

And so Indians are reduced to asking our leaders to do what is right because, quaintly, it is right, not because it will win them votes or dollars. Morality has always been a weak political card, but our nation has come to a rare moment when there is at last a chance–call it a hope–that the card might play. For the man just elected president, now of necessity coldly calculating what his America can and cannot achieve, was shaped among the colonized peoples of Hawaii, Indonesia, and Kenya and by a family sensitive to the costs of colonialism. In his broad mandate for change there will be room for a few deeds of mere moral, rather than electoral, worth. These are thin reeds against the winds of Realpolitik, which will howl at Mr. Obama to ignore–that is, condemn–America’s Indians just as his recent predecessors have done. But forgive Indians and their friends if for now they cling to those hope-giving reeds.

What, specifically, Indians hope for is no mystery. They hope our new president will end their Eternal Depression (compared to which our Great Depression was a curio) with a New Deal: a CCC, a WPA, an NYA, and all the rest of FDR’s alphabet-soup work programs, only under Indian control. They hope our new president will return a few of their stolen lands; for a start, the federal tracts in the Black Hills, sacred to the Lakotas and seized by rankest theft, can be given back without disturbing a single acre owned by a white man. They hope our new president knows, or learns with grief, that tribal colleges and universities–born only a generation ago in trailer homes but already, in the greatest Indian victory since Little Bighorn, turning dropouts into graduates by the thousand–have never received even half the funds our niggardly Congress has authorized for them over the years. They hope our new president will raze the corrupt and soul-crushingly inefficient Bureau of Indian Affairs and erect in its place a truer friend of, by, and for Indians. And they hope our new president will free at last Leonard Peltier, the Mandela of Indian Country. Peltier has been imprisoned these 32 years for killing two FBI agents, an act he may or may not have done. What is certain is that he and his people returned the FBI’s fire only after years of savage provocation, that his trial was one of the grossest railroadings in the history of American courts, and that our government’s guilt far outstripped anything he stood accused of. The man has done time enough. So has Indian Country. Let us hope that may change.

STEVE HENDRICKS is the author of The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country. His website is SteveHendricks.org.

 

 

 

 

Steve Hendricks is the author, most recently, of  A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial. His website is SteveHendricks.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail