My daughter and I will unfortunately be unable to attend the annual Thanksgiving Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz this year. It is also unclear to us also whether the labor dispute between the ferry workers and the new company that owns the ferry lines will further hamper the ceremonies.
Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Day Sunrise Gathering - This event is one day on Thursday November 23, 2006 with ferries leaving at 4:45a.m., 5:00 a.m., 5:15 a.m., 5:30 a.m., 5:45 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. The Indigenous People’s sunrise ceremony is a commemoration of the start of the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz by the 'Indians of All Tribes'. TicketsAs a parent I continue to struggle with my now 6 year old daughter about the myths about Thanksgiving. She recently brought home an art project where she 'gave thanks' to her family, her teachers, her friends, and her TV :-()!
I would like to Give Thanks to My Brother Carlos Munoz [UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies/Chicano Studies and LA 13 activist of 1968] for sharing this speech by flute-maker activist White Crow:
"I would suggest that Thanksgiving, go beyond the gratefulness of the harvest and should be dedicated as well to all our ancestors and give thanks for the things they have taught us with their lives of triumph and failure."
Speech by Barry White Crow Higgins
I have been asked here to day to speak of Thanksgiving from the Native perspective. I am grateful for this opportunity. It is a however a difficult story to be told as it shakes the history most of us have grown to know. It had little to do with turkey, potatoes, or pie. Mid winter of 1620 the Americas saw the landing of the Pilgrims in the area known today as Plymouth MA. They were however not the first to land on these shores. In 1614 a British expedition had already landed there. When they left they took 24 Indians as slaves and left smallpox, syphilis and gonorrhea behind. That plague swept the so-called "tribes of New England", and destroyed some of the villages totally.
The new 1620 settlers were not farmers so their crop failed miserably. Were it not for the guidance of a Pawtuxet named Squanto they would have surely perished. Squanto also negotiated a peace treaty with the Wampanoag people. The next year William Bradford declared a three-day feast after the first harvest. It would later become a part of the myth known as Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims did not call it that nor were the Indians who attended the feast even invited. The invitation was only to Squanto and Chief Massasoit. They then invited over 90 brothers and sisters to the affair much to the distaste of the Europeans.
There were no prayers and the "Indians" were never invited back again. So contrary to popular myth the Puritans were not friends to the Natives. For they believed they were the chosen people of the infinite God, granting them heavenly dispensation for any actions against a people predestined for damnation. Bradford later wrote "It pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness though in this regard God was not perfect for 50 of every thousand Indians has survived."
By 1641 things had really begun to deteriorate and the forth coming of the Natives people forgotten. A 1641 massacre of the Pequot's in CT was very successful so much so the churches declared a day of "thanksgiving" to celebrate victory over the now heathen first peoples. This was the first real use of the term of thanksgiving to mark a day of celebration. The celebration included the decapitation of the heads of eighty Natives, which were tossed into the streets for the New Settlers to kick about as a sign of power and defiance.
Also at this time the Governor Kieft of Manhattan offered the first use of scalping as a form of bounty of 20 shillings per scalp and 40 for each prisoners they could use to sell into slavery. Permission was given to rape or enslave any Native women and enslave any child under 14. Law gave permission to "kill savages on sight at will". By 1675 the Native people under Metacomet fought back with vengeance. But even Metacomet would meet his fate at the hands of the Europeans when he was hunted down and killed, body dismembered, hands sent to Boston, head to Plymouth to be placed on a pole on a Thanksgiving Day in 1767.
Early American history goes on to honor those who would contribute to the genocide of the First Peoples of the Americas. George Washington ordered the attacks on the six nations of the Iroquois despite the gift of 700 bushels of corn he and his men at Valley Forge received from the Oneida peoples. Survival of the troops was at the fate of the saviors themselves. Lord Jeffery Amherst the conceiver and first American user of biological warfare with his inspired use of smallpox infected blankets. Andrew Jackson late repeated this action with the Seminoles. Locally (here in New England) we know the massacre at what we now call Wissatinnewaq by Captain Turner against elders, women, and children. This history would repeat itself with the truth poorly documented and rarely spoken. As recent as 1967, the State of Vermont performed involuntary sterilization of Native females without their permission.
5 to 6 Million Jews and Gypsies were decimated by the Nazi regime in World War II. These facts are well remembered and the world mourns these events. Not to minimize these events or the souls of those victimized, these numbers pale in comparison to the events of the Americas. It has been estimated that over 100 million Native Americans were killed by the European invaders during the establishment of the nation we know today.
Thanksgiving was, without the declared name, a tradition of the Native Peoples a time to give thanks to the Creator for the bounty of the harvest and their lives. As the last crops were harvested time was taken to reflect and give thanks. Although short lived, for three days peace and fellowship was shared in New England back in 1621, a gratefulness was shown for the compassion of one peoples to another and the gifts of Grandfather and Mother Earth acknowledged and shared unconditionally.
I do not speak these truths to solicit sympathy or the righting of ancestral wrongs. Histories cannot be changed but truth is tool that will give us an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and use this knowledge to prevent them from happening again. We know genocide is happening in many areas of the world today. We can pray for these victim souls and by living a better example we can effect change. I would suggest that Thanksgiving, go beyond the gratefulness of the harvest and should be dedicated as well to all our ancestors and give thanks for the things they have taught us with their lives of triumph and failure.
By awakening I pray we may learn to make a better tomorrow.
More on White Crow
More on Carlos Munoz
More on San Francisco Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony/Unthanksgiving commemorations, etc.: