For decades, American Indians have gathered on the fourth Thursday in November on Alcatraz Island to pray.
Published November 23, 2017
Every year during Thanksgiving week I am asked if American Indians celebrate the national holiday. The answer really covers the spectrum of those who choose to embrace modern American living and those who attempt to live traditional practices of our ancestors.
Hundreds of American Indians will travel-beginning at about 3 a.m. this morning-from Pier 33 in San Francisco to Alcatraz Island for an indigenous sunrise ceremony. This is how they celebrate today. They will pray, sing and dance beyond the rising of the sun. During their prayers, they will give thanks to the Creator for our ancestors who went before us. This year, they will remember the memory of Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, who began his spirit journey late last month. They will remember how he once too was on Alcatraz Island as a young AIM leader to protest with those who occupied the island. They will remember the Longest Walks he began on the island; they will remember the walks would continue to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to the injustices of federal policies towards American Indians. And they will pray for future generations that will produce future leaders such as Dennis Banks.
Still others–particularly many tribes across Indian County–have already hosted Thanksgiving dinners for their tribal elderly and other community members in recent days.
Today, many American Indians will sit down to eat a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. They will gather with family and friends to eat, discuss tribal politics and Washington, D.C. politics. They will discuss the erosion of moral standards in American society where lying by the current occupant of the White House has become an everyday occurrence. Wives, mothers and grandmothers will even make a plan to go shopping for Christmas presents for their children and grandchildren on Black Friday in attempts to get the best possible deals. Still others will watch football games as they enjoy the company of family and friends. I know I will choose not to watch the night game because the Washington NFL team with a racist name will be playing in prime time.
This amidst a whole bunch of social media postings about the first Thanksgiving where 700 Pequots were put to death after the meal. This recalling of history makes some American Indians to completely reject Thanksgiving Day and instead suggest the holiday should be deemed a Day of Mourning.
I grew up in a large and close-knit Potawatomi family that celebrated Thanksgiving with grandparents, parents, aunts and cousins, who were treated as brothers and sisters. We gathered over a huge traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Remembering Thanksgivings past, I recall thinking back then my Grandma Whitepigeon made the best mashed potatoes, turkey gravy and dinner rolls. Those memories of being with family I will cherish forever.
Today I understand American history better than I did when I was young. I now see through the constructed American history that promotes the Norman Rockwell false portayal of Thanksgiving. This causes me to apply the true concept of giving thanks to our Creator for all blessings of family, friends and community into my prayers in a more special way today, a day set aside to offer thanks.
And, I will not judge any American Indian regardless of how they choose to recognize today–either in celebration or rejection of Thanksgiving Day.