In a few short days, many of us will gather with our families and close friends around the dinner table and pass the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. More often than not, the gathering is marked by an underlying anxiety as relatives from different points on the political spectrum find themselves face to face. And then there are the various personalities to consider.
Every family has the avoiders, who if not provoked, will do their best to keep the conversation off divisive issues and talk about pumpkin pie recipes, remodeling their homes, or how the football game is going. Then there are the wrestlers who are poised and ready to raise the difficult and challenging issues that often fester just beneath the surface of family life. And then, if at some point the mashed potatoes and the peas start flying, there are the peacemakers who do the hard work of bridgebuilding.
When it comes to talking about the harsh historical realities surrounding Thanksgiving, by and large non-Native Americans tend to be avoiders. We really do not want to face the fact that when the first Europeans reached the shores of what is now called the United States, Native American people made up 100 percent of the population and lived in well-developed societies throughout what is now the United States.
Today Native Americans, from over 800 tribes make up only one percent of the U.S. population and over 70 percent live in urban areas. They were largely forced off the land of their ancestors and relegated to parceled out portions of land we call reservations.
As a Christian minister in a Protestant denomination that traces its roots directly back the Pilgrims, I would rather not face the reality that the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts believing it was their God-given right to dominate the "new world" by whatever means necessary, including violence. This is not easy to talk about.
But one of the incredible resources we have here in Alameda is the Multicultural Community Center and its executive director Zoe Holder, a Native American (Omaha) woman. Like the loving family member who takes the role of the wrestler at the dinner table, Zoe recently took the time to share her story and to open the eyes of my heart to the deep wounds that exist within the Native American community.
Until a few days ago, I had never considered what it is like to live in a culture where everyone around you is preparing for a festive Thanksgiving celebration while you are preparing for a Day of Mourning to grieve the loss of your people and the land that has been so integral to indigenous spirituality.
For the last forty years, the ancestors of the Wampanoag people have gathered on a hill overlooking Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving for a Day of Mourning. In the Bay Area, The Annual Indigenous People's Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island is in its 41st year. Even closer to home, Alameda was a stopping point this weekend for members of the Native American community and supporters as they visited Alameda's sacred Shellmound sites on a 10-day Sacred Site Peace Walk from San Jose to Vallejo.
One of the incredible gifts that the Native American community brings is their belief that all of life is sacred and that we are all related.
Imagine what it would be like if we all could see one another as family at a common table – avoiders, wrestlers, peacemakers, and bridge builders — truly this would be a cause for a thanksgiving celebration.