Thanksgiving Myths

by Mindy Silverado

Our romanticized version of that most American of feasts has been posited and rejected time after time. The true story of deceiving, stealing, and harming has been erased by funny hats and buckle shoes. So this Thanksgiving, giving thanks and giving in to the truth have been looming large for me.

First, giving thanks. It’s cold outside. Winters are hard, after all. I am thankful to have enough–in fact, crazy amounts of leftovers–today. I’m reasonably sure I’ll be able to eat all winter long, too. I also have nice, warm clothes and a home with a bed, a bath, and everything else I require for my survival and well-being.

One of the things I’m most thankful for is clean water. I live in New York, where we have beautiful mountain water piped in hundreds of miles from the Catskills. The delivery system is centuries old and delivers over a billion gallons a day. We’re one of the few large cites that gets potable water without filtering, relying on UV and Chlorine treatment.

Besides giving thanks, Thanksgiving is also about settler colonialism. This is an important term that is well worth a google search and a wikipida read, if it is new to you. I’ll offer just a quick refresher:

Colonialism is when foreigners come to other peoples’ lands and subject the residents to do what they say. The colonial rulers might live in that place, but they might also rely on local collaborators to assist their domination. Colonies like this are an ancient type of subjugation and exploitation, usually seeking out labor and resources. One of the more famous, large-scale examples is British colonialism in India.

Settler colonialism if different because the foreigners intend to stay. They usually use violence, along with other means such as economic deals and tricks, to take land and set up a community. Gaining legitimate-seeming control of land is essential to their agenda. In order to do that, they must displace others who had a claim to it. The most famous example here would be the Christopher Columbus myth and the consequent development of the United States.

Following Patrick Wolfe ’s analysis, settler colonial projects not only dispossess indigenous people, but constitute a form of genocide. Not only are settler colonies often the sites of atrocious mass murder, but they also often wage political and cultural war against the dispossessed. When successful, then, native peoples are all but erased from the colony, which often re-imagines itself as a sovereign state.

My thankfullness for the water and the history of erasure are dramatically linked this Thanksgiving by the fight for water rights at Standing Rock. The protesters there are standing up for rights that should be universal, and that I personally too often take for granted: self-determination and access to clean drinking water.

In doing so, the protesters are resisting the capitalist interests of the fossil fuel industry. However, they are also resisting a settler colonial project that began half a millennium ago. The powers that be are pushing forward their project with all the force at their disposal (that means, a shit-ton of force). They think they can get away with it: losing wouldn’t just mean losing the pipeline, but it would fly in the face of their historical dominance-the dominance of capitalism and the US nation-state.

So, this Black Friday (and for the rest of the holiday season) don’t go out and buy something useless. Get in touch with local Native American or First Nations groups and see what you can do to help.

Start by checking out resources on how to be an ally by Standing Rock Solidarity Network, and find more at the Indigenous Environmental Network.

You can call these people to speak against the violence that is forced upon protesters in Standing Rock:

ND Office of Governor Dalrymple: 701-328-2200.
Morton County Sheriff’s Department:
701-328-8118 & 701-667-3330.
ND National Guard: 701-333-2000
202 224.2043 call the senator of North Dakota
202-456-1111 Obama’s comment line

For more on Settler Colonialism, check out this Oxford Bibliography, and for activism against Settler Colonialism in the U.S. check out Unsettling America.



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