By Contributor on November 21, 2011

By Mark Anthony Rolo

This Thanksgiving, don’t call on me, as an American Indian, to offer up a prayer of thanks.

I sure wouldn’t want to offend anyone with a prayer that dredges up key events of the dark past such as the forced, deadly removal of Cherokee Indians from their eastern homelands back in 1830. From the Carolinas to Oklahoma, 15,000 Cherokee were ordered to march through snow, ice and mountains. At least, 4,000 of them died of starvation or exposure.

A prayer of thanks would be challenging should I reflect on the U.S. cavalry’s longstanding war with many Plains tribes in an effort to steal the West. The Indian Wars revealed the height of this nation’s inhumanity. In 1890, a sneak attack by the 7th Cavalry on a Lakota camp near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota left more than 150 men, women and children massacred.

Nor could I offer thanks for the policy of the federal government, starting in the 1890s, of taking American Indian children from their tribal homes and placing them in boarding schools in an effort to “kill the Indian, but save the man.” Indian children lost their culture, languages and their families. Thousands of boarding school Indian children who died of disease were never returned home. Their bodies are buried in boarding school cemeteries scattered throughout this country.

I suppose I could try and put a positive spin on my prayer by mentioning all of the benefits of Indian gaming. But that would be very misleading, considering that of the more than 500 Indian nations only a handful of tribes have been able to overcome most of the desperate ills of poverty. The rest of Indian Country still struggles with astronomical unemployment rates, the highest suicide rates in the country and rampant alcoholism.

Now, I could offer up a more politically correct prayer of thanks and remind my dinner party folks about a time when all was good between whites and Indians. I could trip back to Plymouth Rock, birthplace of the first Thanksgiving. I could fondly recall how the newly arrived pilgrims honored the Indians with a feast — thanks for getting them through a harsh winter of disease and death.

But that would be one short prayer, since the goodwill between whites and Indians lasted about as long as a cold turkey sandwich.

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

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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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