Wednesday, November 26, 2008

We Remember

In my small elementary school, we always had some sort of Thanksgiving celebration. Instead of bagged lunches or Marriott Food Service mush, the school would put together a potluck lunch with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce. The festive decorations included turkeys shaped by little handprints and stuck to the gym walls with double sided tape, streamers, and little cartoon pilgrims and indians made of cardboard that you can probably order from a magazine sent specifically to teachers for specifically this purpose. We also got to wear either a handmade pilgrim's hat or a band of construction paper with feathers in the back to represent the members of the original feast, I was an Indian if you were wondering.

Now, I'm a picky eater and it was even worse as a child because I was trapped in my pickiness by lack of autonomy, which sucked. I didn't care for pressed turkey, salty gravy and watery-from-a-pouch mashed potatoes and maybe this disdain for our "feast" food made this cold pit form. It's the clearest damn memory but one particular year I just couldn't eat, I felt out of place and slightly queasy and uncomfortable with the whole celebration. I couldn't wait to escape the gym/cafeteria but I didn't have a real reason to leave if I was stopped by a lunch monitor so I stayed.

I remember talking about Girl Scouts and waving to Miss Krystoviac and realizing that other people were actually enjoying this celebration, with it's lax rules of changing tables (normally prohibited) and the presence of teachers normally teaching during this period who came to nip up some turkey and have a quick gossip.

This is the most uncomfortable moment I can ever remember having. I was an outsider during an event designed to mimic a feast of togetherness.

Now, after enduring a class which focused on the plight of the Native Americans after the relations turned sour with the Europeans, maybe I was right to be uncomfortable. I was 19 by the time I was educated on the atrocities committed against our land's native people. Call me naive, call me ignorant but I just didn't know.

I learned all about the systematic, purposeful slaughter of the Native Americans mostly through surviving first-hand letters and diaries of monks and these monks didn't pull any punches or leave out any details. It hurt to read this stuff, I felt betrayed by my lack of knowledge and the thing that horrified me the most was my age. How, after all the Thanksgiving celebrations I'd gone through, had nobody mentioned this. As a kid we were fed a story line that went something like this: The pilgrims and Indians sit down and have a nice feast, which is good, because otherwise those pilgrims would've starved. Trading with those nice Indians brought them knowledge of this New World, how to survive. Now we live here, the end.

So, starting this Thanksgiving, I'm going to start remembering and sharing more of the story. When we go around the table and tell what we are thankful for, I'm going to tell my family an anecdote about how blankets infected with smallpox were sent to Native Americans as a gift, and I'm thankful for knowing this happened so that I can remember it.

A simple remembrance in one person being passed on to seven more. An acknowledgment of the horrors our Natives endured and a thankfulness that they are still here today.

1 comment:

Irishembi said...

I remember being in a car with my soon to be husband who was soon to be an ex-husband and my future MIL. We were traveling along Route 30 and I spotted one of those roadside signs marking the spot of the heroic triumph in some battle with the local Native American Indians.

I was spluttering with indignation that this was something that people had the GALL to CELEBRATE with a big proud iron placard saying, "Hey look everyone! Right here! We slaughtered men, women, and children, took their land, and we're DAMN PROUD of it!"

My car companions looked at me a little oddly and went on with their conversation.

That should have told me something right then and there.