THE HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING

Growing up, one is always taught about the First Thanksgiving as a celebratory feast that the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims to. After this, the pilgrims hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. However, this story is riddled with historical inaccuracies.

The Native Americans that the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth met with were the Wampanoags. The pilgrims landed in 1620 and the chief (sachem) Ousamequin offered them an entente—a friendly understanding or informal alliance—as a way to protect the Wampanoags against their rivals, the Narragansetts. This was not because he wanted to be friends; he and his people had been decimated by an epidemic disease and the English would be able to help him fend off his tribal rebels.

Moreover, the arrival of the Mayflower is not the first instance of the Wampanoags coming into contact with Europeans. Prior, they had been in contact with Europeans, but not in a friendly way. This history involves slave raiding and violence.

The result of telling and retelling the false origin of Thanksgiving is deeply harmful to the Wampanoag Indians whose lives and society were forever damaged after the English arrived in Plymouth. Some adults have said that they remember sitting in school during Thanksgiving and feeling invisible. Not only their classes, but society in general was making light of the historical trauma which weighs around their neck. The traditional narrative paints a deceptively sunny portrait of relationships between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, concealing the long and bloody history of conflict between the Native Americans and European settlers.

For more information about the first Thanksgiving, please check out this article! In it, David Silverman discusses his book This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HAIR IN NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURE

Throughout Native American Culture, there are many teachings and practices that vary depending on location and culture. One of the many things important to Native Americans’ cultural identity is their hair. Hair is seen as an intimate extension of the self as well as a connection to the world. Long hair signifies a strong cultural identity in many tribes. One typically cuts their hear only if he or she has experienced a significant loss like the death of a family member, traumatic event or significant life change.

Furthermore, grooming another’s hair represents a nurturing bond between persons. The braid signifies the sacredness of relationships. Single strands of hair are weak when tugged on; however, when you pull all of the hair together in a braid, the hair is strong. This is a representation of the value of family and tribe along with the connection to all of creation.

Julian Brave Noisecat, a member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen Nation says that he wears his hair long because it is “an expression of cultural and political pride and defiance against a brutal history of forced assimilation through boarding and residential schools where our grandparents were incarcerated, forced to cut their hair and become white. It’s a subtle way to flip the bird to the white men who tried to kill and assimilate our ancestors.”

Throughout history, there are numerous instances where indigenous persons face discrimination for their hairstyles. Indian boarding schools—institutions established in the early 20th century as a way to “kill the Indian and save the man”—were brought to schools and forced to assimilate into foreign culture and cut their hair and throw it away. To the Native Americans, throwing their hair away is a form of personal disrespect. Some cultures burn the hair with sage or sweet grass and their prayers rise with the smoke to the Creator. By throwing away the hair, the culture and value of everything the person had been taught was thrown away. Today, there are still instances where children are sent home from school because of their hair. Long hair shouldn’t be seen as a “rebel” act; it is a religious right.

Note: do not touch someone’s hair without permission!! Some might even find that asking permission is a form of disrespect.

UPDATE: NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

Hello World! November is coming to an end, and that means Native American Heritage Month is coming to an end. To celebrate this month, I will be posting daily about Native American culture, history, people, etc. so stay tuned!

This month is meant to, according to the Nation Congress of Native Americans, “celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people. Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.” My mission is to educate and celebrate Native Americans through my posts.

My Experience: Growing up, my school district covered Native American tribal land, so I went to school with members of the Oneida Nation. At my school, the language was offered as a “lunch-time class” where they were able to learn it during their lunch breaks. Like any language, these classes were not enough to make them fluent. It is crazy to me to think that Native American languages are rapidly dying out as a result of colonialism. As a child, I rejected my parents’ native language. Now, I wished I had learned it, and I assume that this feeling perpetuates throughout the world, no matter the culture.

REMINDER: DO NOT APPROPRIATE SOMEONE’S CULTURE THIS HALLOWEEN

Halloween is approaching fast, and this means it is time to start thinking of a costume to wear (for your virtual zoom party or around the house of course). So, this post is a reminder to everyone that one should not appropriate someone’s culture as a costume! This is Cultural Appropriation. The definition of cultural appropriation is “the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity.” This could mean taking intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifacts, history and ways of knowledge, parts (symbols, artifacts, dress, practices) or any instance that is commonly associated with and/or perceived as belonging to another. A common result to cultural appropriation is commodification. Commodification is the process in which the dominant culture has the freedom and/or power to take objects or artifacts from other cultures. Through this process, the relationship between these objects or artifacts and their intrinsic value is lost.

Some examples of cultural appropriation:

  • black face
  • simply being “a different race for halloween”
  • gypsies
  • geishas

Some ways that you can address this issue:

  • Reflect on yourself – ask yourself, do you know what is cultural appropriation and have you done it before?
  • Talk to your friends and bring up the subject – what do they think of it?
  • Reflect on your costume this year – is your costume based on someone’s race, ethnicity, or culture? Does my costume use stereotypes to make a joke or to be sexy? Is it exploiting another culture?
  • Advocate!!!

A good resource that I found that touches on this subject is University of Denver’s “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” photo campaign that aims to raise awareness and create a respectful and inclusive community for the students. What do you think about cultural appropriation? I have researched this topic and have found that there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation.

Indigenous Peoples Day

Red Cloud - Wikipedia
Red Cloud; picture credentials: Wikipedia

They made us many promises—more than I can remember— but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it

Red Cloud, a leader of the Oglala Lakota from the years 1868-1909

This past Monday, October 12, was what is commonly known as Columbus Day, or in some states, Indigenous Peoples Day. Fourteen states —Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin— plus the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of, or in addition to Columbus Day. Personally, I do not recognize Columbus Day as a day that should be celebrated. Listed below are the reasons why. This topic might be triggering as it deals with rape and murder; if it is to you, please do not click further!

VOTER SUPPRESSION

How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts This November in Texas – Texas Monthly
Remember to Vote! Picture Credentials: Texas Monthly

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This act was created to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that ensured that minorities, primarily African Americans, would be unable to exercise their right to vote which was given to them through the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment states:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Amendment XV

This amendment, which was ratified in 1870, prevented states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” Nevertheless, state legislators sought loopholes and used various discriminatory practices to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. Some examples of these practices are literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses (laws that made men eligible to vote if their ‘grandfather’ had been able to vote before African-Americans were allowed to) or outright lying. Black people attempting to vote would often be met with an election official telling them that they had gotten the wrong day/location/time or that they would need to take a literacy test. Due to oppression and insufficient schooling, black people had a much higher rate of illiteracy compared to white people. So, they were often forced to take literacy tests and if they failed, would be sent away. The Voting Rights Act banned the use of literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and “good character tests.” After the Act had been passed, voter turnout amongst black people significantly jumped. In Mississippi alone, it had jumped from a mere 6% in 1964 to 59% in 1969.

In June 2013, the supreme court altered the section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in a case called Shelby county v. Holder. In a 5-4 ruling, the court decided that the landmark law that required certain states and localities with a history of discrimination against minority voters to get changes cleared by the federal government before they went into effect would be removed. This removal would mean that discriminatory voting policies could not be blocked before they harmed voters. Immediately after the decision, Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina, who were both previously covered by the law, moved to enact new voter ID laws and other restrictions meant to spur voter suppression. These types of discriminatory practices fly under the radar of the federal court because they are not able hear about the local changes, let alone stop them.

Here are some ways that voter suppression has surged since this ruling:

  • Polling Place Closures
    • Between 2012 and 2018, there were 1,688 polling place closures in states that were covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In the video I embedded below, the New York Times team details the discriminatory practices that Georgia uses to suppress their black voters. In the video, in a predominately black area, a man had to wait 7 hours, 45 minutes, and 13 seconds just to vote. Comparatively, a polling place in a predominately white, suburban area had to wait 20 minutes to vote.
  • Voter ID Laws
    • In every state that were restricted before, Black and Latinx voters were more likely not to have a government issued photo ID, which is why Republicans are pushing for stricter voter ID laws.
  • Proof of Citizenship

WHITE AUSTRALIA POLICY

White Australia policy | National Museum of Australia
Brass “White Australia” protection badge, 1906; source: National Museum of Australia

White Australia policy, formally known as the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, effectively stopped all non-European immigration into Australia.

“That end, put in plain and unequivocal terms… means the prohibition of all alien coloured immigration, and more, it means at the earliest time, by reasonable and just means, the deportation or reduction of the number of aliens now in our midst. The two things go hand in hand, and are the necessary complement of a single police – the policy of securing a ‘white Australia.'”

This, alongside other policies discriminating against BIPOC, developed from the racist ideas and criticisms against non-white groups that generally depicted those groups as less advanced than white people in all ways, especially morally and intellectually. This idea primarily aimed at people of Asian descent but applied to all BIPOC, including Indigenous Australians. Ironically, Australia saw itself as a utopia and a working man’s paradise. Thus, they aimed to attract a well-paid, male, white, and skilled labor force to uphold this image. Consequently, BIPOC and even working women were seen as a threat to this ideal and would be paid less.

The Immigration Restrication Act gave immigration officers the power to make any non-European migrant sit a 50 word dictation test. Since the language chosen for the dictation test was chosen by the immigration officer, it was easy to ensure failure for all migrants deemed undesirable. For example, a South Asian that knows English could be given a test in French, German, or, if need be, Lithuanian. The test was administered 1359 times prior to 1909, and only 52 people were granted entry to Australia. After 1909, not one migrant that was forced to take the test passed.

These policies would continue with full fervor until the late 1940s. After the Second World War, Arthur Calwell, the Chifley government’s immigration minister, started to relax the policy to allow refugees to come to Australia. However, the majority of the refugees reflected the White Australia ideal with only limited numbers of migrants from other backgrounds. In the 1970s, the Whitlam government completely eliminated the acts with the introduction of policies like the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.

THE OTHER AMERICA – MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

In this speech, Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the two Americas: one America where the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity flows through the streets like water in a river; where no one is hungry, no one is oppressed, and everybody’s needs are met, mentally and physically. The other America tragically also exists. In this other America, “millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America, millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

America is considered the “mixing pot” where people of all cultures live. However, the vast majority of BIPOC live in the “other America.” King specifically describes black people. Black people live in “a ghetto of race, a ghetto of poverty, a ghetto of human misery.” The Civil Rights Movement aims to deal with the division of the Americas, trying to mend America so it can be one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. As of 1967 (when King had said this speech), America had overcome many struggles in the fight for equality: legal segregation (getting rid of Jim Crow laws). But, they are facing their biggest challenge now: genuine equality. Black people and other minorities (specifically Indigenous and Hispanic people) still live in under served/low-income areas because of redlining that had taken place 50+ years ago. At the time of King’s speech, black people had an unemployment rate more than double that of the nation’s unemployment rate. America has made advances in racial justice and racial equality, but it has also taken steps backward.

Thus, we are met with riots to enforce the changes that the people want. Riots do not appear out of thin air, rather they are the result of continued oppression and the language of the unheard. “And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Black poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity… Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

A/N: I only took extracts from the speech. I have attached the speech transcript here.

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?

Today, June 19th, 2020, marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. You might ask, “What is Juneteenth?” To be honest, I had never heard of the holiday until I questioned why it was in my calendar. And that right there is an act of privilege that I have, to be able to be unaware about Juneteenth which celebrates the liberation and end of slavery in the United States when I am a United States citizen. But, I am educating myself and it is a process that will never be finished

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19th, 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). General Granger read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

In response to this news, people were shocked but also jubilant. Though many stayed to see how the new employer to employee relationship unfolded, many set off North or to neighboring states to see family. Then, the Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying, and for gathering remaining family members. Now, many former slaves and descendants make an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date. There are a range of activities that you can do today to celebrate Juneteenth. However, I would like to caution all of you to not do anything rash because of the pandemic still around. So, here are some ways to celebrate Black Joy on Juneteenth:

  1. Buy artwork from a Black artist. This could come in the form of tapestries, clothing, or music.
  2. Read and discuss articles from The Root’s Black Excellence column
  3. Order takeout from a Black owned restaurant
  4. Venmo individual Black people doing good work in their community
  5. Listen to playlists and podcasts featured in Spotify’s ‘Black History is Now’ campaign
  6. Read a book by a Black author that’s main subject area is not racism.
  7. Watch a show or movie that has Black Joy. Some shows/movies on Netflix are #BlackAF, About The Washingtons, All American, Cheer, Dear White People, and many more.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have declined which was a consequence of economic and cultural forces. Textbooks and classroom education didn’t cover the topic of slavery in detail and proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation was the only thing that signaled the ending of slavery. However, Juneteenth saw a resurgence of celebrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we must continue in stride and celebrate Juneteenth and with it, African American freedom and achievement.

Originally published June 19

RACISM IS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS

The coronavirus has impacted every one of us. COVID-19 does not discriminate between races as it affects everyone. However, it is affecting some races more than others. As of right now, the Navajo Nation has the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the USA, surpassing New York which had been thought of as the epicenter of the pandemic. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the U.S. Its infection rate is 3.3% as the nation has a population of 173,667 people and has had 5,533 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 248 deaths. Its infection rate surpasses New York’s by roughly 1.0%.

American indigenous family aware of the dangers of the Covid19 pandemic stands 6 feet apart from one another

Coronavirus impacts minority groups differently than peoples in urban/major cities across America. These individuals are often of a lower income bracket and are frequently working in jobs that are deemed essential. Thus, they face a higher risk of infection than others. Also, Tyrone Whitehorse, a member of the Diné Nation from Lechee, Arizona, wrote that “it’s hard to follow public health guidelines when the reservation is facing “systemic disparities,” like limited access to healthcare, minimal running water, and a lack of protective supplies. Nearly 1/3 of families on the reservation don’t have access to running water or electricity, let alone a clinic or a hospital nearby. In addition, on the Navajo reservation, there are only 13 grocery stores to serve an area the size of West Virginia. Therefore, when people were rushing to grocery stores across the nation, it caused members of the Navajo reservation to hit the dirt roads and drive an hour or more to the nearest grocery store. However, when they got there, much of the supplies they needed were gone already. Also, the small number of grocery stores result in food scarcity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that “current data suggests a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.” Additionally, COVID-19 death rates for Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals “were substantially higher than that of white or Asian person” for cities across the country noted the CDC.

As you may know, when European settlers came to America, they brought diseases that left Native Americans ravaged and afraid of what can happen when there is no immunity in a population against foreign infections. With the rise of COVID-19, anxiety and fear threatened the people once again. Throughout the Navajo reservation, signs can be seen reading “Please stay away, we are trying to keep grandma safe” on homes. In Native American culture, stories and history are told orally, meaning that they typically don’t write out the stories, instead passing them down by speaking. The elders, who are knowledge keepers, culture bearers, storytellers, matriarchs, leaders, language teachers, are being disproportionally affected by the virus. When an elder dies, it is as if a library is burned down.

Please help the Navajo Nation by donating to any of the organizations listed below

To learn more, check out this action doc by Changing Womxn Collective: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1IG9uNbKF_xxdNWXB667YxBuRbnnRUDOnf6PcPGGECeI/edit

Originally published June 9