A Reflection on Thanksgiving and History

I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with friends here in Chicago. I had a lovely time of delicious food and good company. I am glad for the reminder to be grateful for the many wonderful gifts that I have. I am thankful for friends, for family, for purpose, for health, for community.
But I am also mindful of the troubled history behind this day. Thanksgiving remains intimately connected with the colonial history of the United States, a history that includes violence perpetrated against native peoples. I know people of Native American descent who refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving, due to the terrible history embodied in this day.
What I find striking is my own selective understanding about Thanksgiving. In some ways, I embrace my place as a part of the United States. I am grateful for the freedoms and opportunities this country has provided me. But when I consider the tragic moments in my country’s history, I find that I place distance between the country and myself. “My family came to this country in 1986! We don’t have any connection to what happened all those centuries ago!”
But if I am a part of this country, if I take part in the many blessings offered here, then I believe that I have a responsibility to its history. I have a responsibility to listen to those whose voices are not heard, to challenge injustices that remain in place, and to stand with those cast aside. I have a responsibility to rise above demonizing and shaming, and to call for thanksgiving at its proper time and lament at its proper time.
With that in mind, I would like to share this perspective on Thanksgiving from Mark Charles, a man of Navajo descent (h/t Marc Robinson). Here is an excerpt:
“Being Native American and living in the United States, it feels like our Native communities are an old grandmother who has a very large and very beautiful house. Years ago some people came into our house and locked us upstairs in the bedroom. Today our house is full of people. They’re sitting on our furniture, they’re eating our food, they’re having a party in our house. They’ve since come upstairs and unlocked the door to our bedroom but it’s much later; we’re tired, we’re old, we’re weak and we’re sick, so we can’t or we don’t come out. But the thing that hurts us the most, the thing that causes us the most pain is that virtually nobody from this party ever comes upstairs, seeks out the grandmother in the bedroom, sits down next to her on the bed, takes her hand and simply says thank you. Thank you for letting us be in your house.”

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