Thursday, November 22, 2012


Norman Rockwell's famous "Freedom From Want" illustration from 1943. Part of the "Four Freedoms" series. Needless to say, for many-- or most -- Americans in 1943, Thanksgiving wasn't quite like that...

There's one of those posts over at Alternet that lambastes the Europeans -- specifically the English settlers in North America -- for genocide of the Indians, a genocide that was the impetus for the First Thanksgiving that is still (apparently) given much play in elementary schools across this broad and fertile land.

The genocide was real, and it's still not really taught or even talked about much in schools, I'm told. The preferred way to deal with it is still to claim that the Indians "died out" due to lack of resistance to European diseases. That's true too as far as it goes. Many tribes perished en masse from disease. Many others still struggle with the twin scourges of Native Peoples, alcoholism and diabetes, both of which were introduced by and have been idly perpetuated by the dominant Euro-culture.

However, something keeps astonishing me about the Anglo/Euro-American view of American Indians, and that is the strange belief that the Indians have been all but wiped out entirely, that they are "gone, though not forgotten." The internalized belief is that the genocide -- however it was accomplished -- was essentially complete, and now there are almost no Indians left.

What nonsense. I know too many people who sincerely believe this though, who assure themselves  that they don't have to concern themselves with Indians any more because there aren't any left -- or at least that there aren't enough of them left to bother with.

But scholars suggest that there are more American Indians alive now than there ever were, and for the most part, native tribes are holding their own if not flourishing. Tribal living has been severely -- and probably irreparably -- disrupted for many Natives, but there is no lack of Natives in this country. Many are wise, some are militant, all of the American Indians I know are creative. The stereotypes from the past are still abroad in the land, of course, but the reality mocks the stereotypes.

It's a reality worth celebrating, and yes giving thanks for. Without a Native presence, America would be much worse off than it is.

Moving from California to New Mexico, we knew we were moving from a society in which the very concept of "Native" is for all intents and purposes alien (though there be no lack of Indians in California, don't get me wrong, they are very numerous) to one in which Native Peoples, society and culture are the foundation of everything else. Indians are not "gone" from New Mexico by any means. They are everywhere. The 19 current Pueblos are only part of the picture of Native Living in New Mexico. The ruins which dot the state, some of them not far from our own home here, demonstrate that the Indians of New Mexico and round about were "civilized" (in terms that Spanish and Anglos can understand) from a very early date, and modern day Pueblos continue that society in an unbroken line from those early days. Scholars are said to be still mystified by the "Anasazi" > Pueblo connection ("if there is one") but the Pueblo Peoples aren't. They understand it fully, and they are happy to let the scholars know if they are interested, but often they are not because they are more interested in fostering their own pet theories.
The Navajo and Apache Peoples who have lived among the Pueblo Peoples for many generations -- and have had more than a little conflict with them over the centuries, let's not fool ourselves -- have a distinct life-style and culture and language that is not that of the Pueblos, and most people in New Mexico understand that, while many outside the state don't. Navajo may have the dominant numbers and may hold far more land than other tribes, but they do not rule Indian society, nor is their culture the dominant Indian culture. It is one of several. (Navajo and Apache are considered "new-comers" -- and invaders -- by the Pueblos, because they only started arriving from the north in the 1400's, not that long before the Spanish incursions from the south.)

The Kiowa and Comanche Peoples who once raided and preyed on the Pueblos of New Mexico from the north and east are now pretty much integrated into Indian life in the region and many have become part of Pueblo communities. There still might be a sense of rivalry or even animosity from time to time, but for the most part, no. In fact, it appears that Indians of All Nations are welcome among the established tribes, and together they form a huge part of the artistic and cultural richness of New Mexico. It's impossible to imagine New Mexico without an enormous cultural, social, and artistic influence by Native Peoples.

Of course what I know about these things is limited. My ignorance is profound, as it will no doubt be for the rest of my life. I may have lived among Indians for most of my existence, but I still feel like I "know" next to nothing -- and in many respects, that's as it should be. I'm still finding out about my own people, after all,  and the lies they've told over the generations.

We'll have a modest Thanksgiving this afternoon -- partly to acknowledge the many blessings we've had over the years, and to give thanks to the Spirits for all of it, good and bad, as we have stumbled along our complicated path of life. Myself, I once was convinced I wouldn't -- couldn't -- live past 30, and here I am well into my 60's, puttering along, amazed at every day. Astonished. And often delighted.

The United States has many sins to atone for, as each of us as individuals have our own catalog of sins  to expiate. At the same time, we have so many blessings to be grateful for.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Then gird thy loins, there is so much more to do...;-)

1 comment:

  1. It's more like the Russian pogroms against the Jews then the Nazi extermination camps. In other words it was inefficient, chaotic and haphazard. Many people were murdered, and many had their lives destroyed, but because it was inefficient it doesn't evoke the horror of the Nazi attempt. (Or else it does, and it's just because I'm living in America that I don't see it.)

    "They're shooting Buffalo..."