Friday, November 23, 2012


Unless you live under a rock, you know yesterday was Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday for me.

On the one hand, I love the food. And more than that, I love the time with family.

So that makes being overseas in the Foreign Service at Thanksgiving particularly difficult, because it is a very American holiday, one where we expect to be with family. And one where there is generally no overseas equivalent. So we make our own amongst the embassy community.

For us, that meant dinner at the Ambassador's house with about 30 people. The food was awesome and the company excellent.

But as an Indian person, I recognize the one-sidedness of the Thanksgiving story we are taught in schools. I know that the line "the Indians had never seen such a feast" could not be more wrong, since not only were the foods at that feast indigenous to the Americas, but fall harvest celebrations were common to many tribes in the area (and in the Southeast as well, where I am from). So it was actually the colonists who had never seen such a feast.

I also know that the colonists could not have survived had Indians not been decimated by plagues brought by that first contact, and had the remaining Indians not been willing to share their knowledge and their bounty with the colonists.

I know too that one of the first celebrated Thanksgivings was actually a celebration of the massacre of an Indian village, the occupants of which were killed in their sleep after their festive fall harvest celebration. And I know that throughout our country's history, the chapters involving Indian people have been mostly painful tales of slavery, war, and annihilation.

I am clearly part dad is white and my mother was mixed Indian and white. And mixed as well are my feelings...I know I wouldn't be here without immigrants, but as an Indian, as well as my tribe's historian, I also know the devastation that brought. I personally am the descendant of one man who died on the trail of tears and another who was sold into slavery and then freed for his service in the Revolutionary War.

And so I am hyper aware of my Indianness when I am at a Thanksgiving meal, especially when that meal is away from my family and so it is harder to remove it from the reality of that first contact. But this year, though far from home, there were two other Indians at the table. I wore my medicine bag just inside my shirt, and I noticed my friend, an enrolled member of the Eastern Cherokee Nation, wore her bone chocker-type bracelet just inside her shirt sleeve.

From across the table, I discreetly showed her the bone "chain" that holds my bag, and pointed to her wrist.

She smiled and nodded, and we both understood.

1 comment:

marsha said...

Have you read Saints and Strangers? It's a fascinating mostly first-hand account based on Bradford's diaries.