This Thanksgiving, while you’re serving up that Turkey or bragging about your delicious gravy recipe, remember the Native American. When you’re kicking back in your armchair to watch some football or rushing off to Black Friday sales, remember the Native American. When you’re holding hands at the dinner table with all of your family, sharing accolades of gratitude and love for each other, dedicate a second of your dinner to remembering the Native American.
Not as a mascot for a favorite team, not as a sexy or fun Halloween costume, not as some mystical being of a novel, but as peoples and cultures who have been absolutely mistreated by the United States in history, popular culture, and today.
Columbus may have discovered America, but he also forced thousands of Taino Indians into enslavement, shipping them off to Hispaniola. There may have been some semblance of peace the First Thanksgiving, but what does it matter decades later when The Dawes Act of 1887 destroyed tribal sovereignty, sold tribal lands to whites, and instituted boarding schools that punished children for speaking native languages or practicing tribal rituals?
The Dawes Act was the very thing that split Native Americans into the reservation sites we know today. However, reservation life is no easy feat; there are countless struggles of violence, addiction, and poverty occurring everyday. Natives who lost their ancestral lands experienced isolation, and found themselves limited culturally and geographically by the new reservation sites. Much culture was lost, as the government worked to assimilate the people into modern society without thought of how much harm it could (and did) bring to Native American culture and economic well-being. Such a drastic change to a culture and people rooted in thousands of years of history caused a sickening upheaval in their ways of life. We are still seeing repercussions from it today.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that “American Indians are twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races.” The National Congress of American Indians cites that “1 in 10 American Indians (12 or older) become victims of violent crimes annually,” and with Natives have a “510% higher” chance of dying of alcoholism. Another stat from NCAI is that Native American teenagers have “the highest suicide rate among all ethnic groups in the United States.”
When asking a fellow classmate about her experiences visiting a reservation in South Dakota, she was quick to confirm these horrific statistics with stories told around a campfire by a Lakota Tribe member:
“A lot of things moved me while I was on the trip, and I’ll admit I got a little emotional at times when sitting around a camp fire and hearing the ugly stories of a Vietnam veteran, a respected soldier who gave his life to protect his people, laying down in front of semi trucks who deliver alcohol to a small town on the outskirts of the reservation. It’s not common knowledge, but citizens of the reservation often battle with alcoholism due to the harsh life and dead ends they encounter without a decent education system and a source of money. This veteran I spoke to also participated in protesting the pipeline and trying to stop trucks full of alcohol from making their way through the reservation. He told us that the Indian protesters would set up tents where they would stay as long as they could and protest. He said that the water that ran through the reservation used to be clean, that everyone could drink it straight from the stream. Then, factories were built near the streams, either polluting or drawing from the water. Now it is no longer drinkable for the tribe. The poverty is so bad on the reservation that paying a bill for clean water is nearly impossible.
He became more emotional when discussing how we’re constantly taking and taking from Mother Earth and how we never give back. To see the way he gets so upset and emotional over the environment even though him and his people have so little as the government tosses him aside is very moving. People like us live day to day not worrying about how we’ll receive our next meal or how we’ll be able to educate our family properly. Even with all these worries about money, education, and health, the tribe is actively talking about their concerns for the environment and the state of the world, even though the world in return has done nothing for them. People with a mind such a this, they’re the ones who deserve all the resources we take for granted.” –Courtney, Age 17
The pain the Native Americans have experienced is not something to forget over Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, considering the holiday is built on such a dark history as this, it’s a wonder that the majority of Americans have forgotten about the first people to ever inhabit this country and what happened to them. While the rest of us are arguing over what it means to be truly American, and if that constitutes a certain skin color, gender, religion, or set of values, the true Natives are living with violence, poverty, and the loss of their ancestral land. The least we can do is to remember it every November.