If ever there was an American holiday where history ought to be left off the menu it is Thanksgiving.

As an American Indian, I can’t think of anything more depressing than sitting around the dinner table tracing the legacy of a holiday that began with a questionable decision to save a band of starving pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

Almost immediately after the Indians’ rescue feast, the pilgrims and their European successors began a ceaseless campaign of colonization – raiding Indian villages, murdering inhabitants, stealing land and spreading infectious diseases that nearly wiped out whole tribal populations on the entire East Coast.

Excuse me, but I thought Indians were supposed to be the savages.

To make way for expansion after the Revolutionary War, the U.S. government ordered tribes to abandon their interior lands and move west of the Mississippi. While President Andrew Jackson debated whether or not he had the authority to proclaim an official date of Thanksgiving, he had no trouble signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Tribes like the Cherokee and Seminole lost thousands of their people to internment camp diseases and barefoot trails across snowy mountains and icy rivers.

Breaking treaties with tribal nations was the rule of the 19th century. Indians ceded vast amounts of land to the white man with little return. Indian resistance was met with the slaughter of women and children at places like Sand Creek and Wounded Knee.

One year before President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November to be the official day for giving thanks, he authorized the largest execution in this nation’s history. After the Dakota of Minnesota were left starving on reservation land, some members began hunting off reservation. Skirmishes erupted between Indians and the settlers. The U.S. military rounded up hundreds of Indians. And Lincoln ordered the execution of thirty-nine “Indians and half-breeds,” as he called them. One received a last-minute reprieve. But on the day after Christmas in 1862, the military carried out Lincoln’s order and hanged 38 Dakota men.

In the decades that followed, the federal government kept trying to reduce Indians even further. It sent Indian children to boarding schools to adopt white ways. It weakened tribal self-rule. It stole resources from Indian land. And it failed to deliver billions of dollars owed by treaties to Indians.

Not a Thanksgiving has passed without Indians staring through America’s dining room window.

Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation brings a live turkey to the White House. Tradition calls for the president to pardon the bird by allowing it to live out its days in quiet solitude on some obscure farm. It’s quite the irony. Imagine how different the history of Thanksgiving would be if the Pilgrims had done the same to the Indians.

Mark Anthony Rolo is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

Maybe I should only be shocked that I wasn’t shocked a long time ago.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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