The trauma of Thanksgiving for Native communities during a pandemic

The Thanksgiving myth, a tale of a meal of peace between white colonizers and Native Americans, has long been debunked for its historical inaccuracies. But to reckon with the holidays is to understand how it helped spark a painful history of trauma – massacres, abuse and neglect – that Native Americans still carry 400 years later.

In his 2018 novel There therePulitzer Prize finalist Tommy Orange tells the story of the challenges Native Americans, especially those who live in cities, continue to face. It connects the travels of cultural characters and self-discovery through the prism of generational trauma; The book’s prologue traces the gruesome history of Thanksgiving and Indigenous erasure, from the forced withdrawal of Native American communities from their ancestral lands to current examples of cultural appropriation.

Today, much of the truth of Native American history is still left out in the country’s education system. Meanwhile, indigenous affairs receive little coverage in the media. And this despite a year that demanded reflection and action in terms of re-examining the country’s racist past – protests for racial justice have swept the country this summer and the Covid-19 pandemic has indigenous communities disproportionately affected and other communities of color. The fact that many American families are still planning to gather this Thanksgiving, despite the risks to the most vulnerable in our communities, is a throwback for many white settlers who are spreading deadly diseases that have shrunk Indigenous populations.

“If Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude and a common feeling of being together, if we can think this way as a country, Covid-19 is one of the lessons where we can learn to think of others and not of ourselves themselves first, ”Orange told Vox. “It would be my greatest hope. But I don’t know to what extent this is happening.

I spoke to Orange about self-reflection during a period of racial reckoning, why Thanksgiving is still a widely celebrated holiday, and the upcoming sequel to his novel. Our interview has been edited and condensed.

Rachel ramirez

In your book There there, the prologue is about the true story of Thanksgiving. How should this excerpt, along with the general message of your book – the generational trauma that Native Americans face in their daily lives – translate into people’s understanding of Thanksgiving compared to Native Americans today?

Tommy Orange

My son is 9, and we saw him go to public school, and we got to see the warning signs and how they were going to teach Thanksgiving and what that means historically. It’s indoctrination. Creepy is the way I feel the way the lie is taught like it’s the truth. We are still a long way from recognizing something that seems fundamental to so many of us. So we took him out of school in grade one for the whole week, because we didn’t want him to have to interact with that.

For my son, the next three years we raised a native Oakland man who powwow dances, sings and drums, and his family dances. He asked the children to ask questions about native culture. He was able, with great compassion, to address many of these misunderstandings and the way the general population thinks of Indigenous people – a truly monolithic version of what native is.

Knopf

In the book, I was just trying to bring up something that has to do with the way we look at history. Americans didn’t care about Thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln brought it back to life to mend the nation during the Civil War, to give us something to celebrate together. It could be a really cool opportunity for us to do the same now, around another civil discord, a time of civil war in the country with how divided we are – for us to leave Thanksgiving together in the same spirit. and decide it’s stupid An American vacation that is really hurtful to a lot of people and never was based on anything patriotic or true.

Rachel ramirez

How do you usually spend the vacation week?

Tommy Orange

Well I grew up celebrating it. My dad had no problem with that. My father was not an activist or overtly political in that way. He really is a Democrat and very suspicious of the government, but it is a really easy holiday to celebrate because you get to eat some great food and spend time with your family. No one likes to hate Thanksgiving, because everyone loves it for these good reasons.

But I’ve stopped celebrating it for the past 10 years, and it’s a struggle with the in-laws who don’t understand to stop wanting to celebrate it. So it’s always a tough time, but I think it’s really easy this year because of the pandemic. In the past we have tried not to do anything in particular, just enjoy the day – including not supporting the Thanksgiving industry, which buys all Thanksgiving food, which is one of the many things that continues to support it as a holiday. We have been to the movies different years. Like I said, we just enjoyed the day together.

Rachel ramirez

With the protests this summer and America’s racial calculation slowly, how do you think the current climate will inform this year’s vacation?

Tommy Orange

Right now, what I’m feeling is that he has fallen beyond the surreal into the absurd. People cling so tightly to their traditions under the guise of patriotism, even prepared to die of it. I hope a lot will change because of what’s coming out in 2020. I hope that … [amid] the kind of economic collapse like the Great Depression, this social change occur after these devastating historical moments. I’m still holding my breath a lot, waiting to see what will happen. I am quite tired.

I can’t say that I hope this will mean people rethink Thanksgiving and Native history. I don’t feel like I’m in a place where I allow myself to hope like this. But I feel like with all the awareness that has come in 2020, for some people, it’s an easy “cancel Thanksgiving” response. Although I don’t think there is enough progress to be noted, and I’m not trying to be completely cynical. It’s just when we’re divided like we are as a country, and when you still have people in power who are sort of under the cover of this tradition, this patriotism and this noble country, it’s difficult. to feel something other than cynicism.

Rachel ramirez

How? ‘Or’ What should do people take this time to reflect and reexamine the brutal history of Thanksgiving?

Tommy Orange

I’m going to sound cynical again, but anyone who takes the time to think it over has probably thought enough about it this year – if not many, many years ago – and isn’t actively celebrating it in a problematic way that you would need to. reflection for change. And whoever doesn’t get into his state of reflection, because of what all of this means, they don’t care. They fly across the country during a pandemic to be patriotic. They’re going to binge on turkey and gravy.

It’s a side of the country that I don’t really understand. So I hope that people who are already thinking don’t do it in a disrespectful or stupid way, and those who are will just continue to do so. I don’t see much movement on the other side for this to be an opportunity for them to change their way of thinking. It is really difficult to reach and do this kind of gesture during this time.

Rachel ramirez

As you said, many American families will be gathering for the holidays, despite warnings from health officials not to. Meanwhile, Covid-19 is still a major issue with a disproportionate impact on the Indian country. Can you tell us how historical and current injustices have left Indigenous communities vulnerable in the face of the pandemic and how people can shed light on this?

Tommy Orange

The invisibility of Indigenous issues seems to be a constant. The way people think about taking the risks – considering how many people it affects the most and considering overcrowding hospitals and affecting people in need of medical care and the elderly and vulnerable – the possibility of thinking about vulnerable people in a community way is really anti-American because we’re so individualistic. Me, me, me and now, now, now. I mean, if Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude and a common feeling of being together, if we can think this way as a country, Covid-19 is one of the lessons where we can learn to think about others and not to ourselves first. It would be my greatest hope. But I don’t know to what extent this is happening.

It would be great if this didn’t become a big-ticket event. It is not only them who will be affected, it is overcrowded hospitals and it will affect other people.

Rachel ramirez

Despite the pandemic, natives participated in this election and played a key role in swing states like Arizona. How do you see the relationship of the tribal nations with the next Biden administration?

Tommy Orange

Well, it’s good to hear during the speech of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if just the denomination of Native Americans. Sometimes we are ignored, so it was good to hear each other recognized. And I hope that with Biden’s language of how to make Cabinet and administration look like the country – we are a big part of the country’s history, its narrative, its origins, and his present. We are a smaller number than many other minorities, but we are an important part of the country. I hope that as we move forward we can be included more than we had been.

Rachel ramirez

What are you currently working on? What kept you busy?

Tommy Orange

I am working on a series of There there. It’s supposed to be released in 2022, hopefully sooner in 2022 than later. So I was deeply involved in getting in as good shape as possible. The book goes into more history and also the consequences of the powwow. It’s called Wandering stars.

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