ALCATRAZ ISLAND – On Thursday morning, before sunrise, hundreds of American Indians – and non-Native allies – will gather on Alcatraz Island for “The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony.”
Every year since 1975, American Indians have journeyed from the mainland to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on Thanksgiving Day. Previously the day was called “Un-Thanksgiving Day.”
In modern times, Alcatraz Island has become a symbol to American Indians. It is a symbol of both struggle and hope. The affinity American Indians has with Alcatraz Island goes deep.
Sam Levine - Huffington Post
When Cedric Cromwell sits down with his family for a meal on Thanksgiving each year, the day holds a unique kind of significance.
Cromwell is the chairman and president of the tribal council of the Mashpee Wampanoag, the same Native American tribe that first made contact with the Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts in 1620. While the Wampanoag welcomed the Pilgrims and helped them ensure a successful first harvest, they were nearly wiped out by warfare and disease that arrived with the settlers.
For Cromwell, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give thanks, but also to highlight the way that his people suffered at the hands of the settlers.
"We are Americans as well, and so even today, I sit down at Thanksgiving with family," he said. "I do have that Thanksgiving meal on that day with family but it gives me an opportunity to speak to the kids and the family about the truth of the day, and why that day is important to give thanks."
Cromwell's perspective illustrates the dual meaning that Thanksgiving holds for some Native Americans. The day is both a chance to ceremoniously express gratitude -- a practice that existed in Native American culture before the Pilgrims arrived -- and an opportunity to highlight the challenges the community faces today. Just as some are pushing to recognize "Indigenous Peoples' Day" on Columbus Day, there is an effort to use the Thanksgiving holiday to bring an accurate representation of Native American history into mainstream American culture.
Cromwell said that it was important to both give thanks and highlight the brutal history Native Americans have faced.
"Some would say, 'Why be so dark about it?' Well, it's real, it's truthful, it was a holocaust, and that holocaust must be shared and communicated so that we ensure that mankind doesn't do that to each other again," Cromwell said. "We know this world is made up of travesty and tragedy. We also know that this world is made of a lot of goodness and hope and honesty and integrity."
On Thanksgiving, between 700 and 1,200 people will gather in Plymouth, Massachusetts, for a "National Day of Mourning" to educate people about the vicious history of the treatment of Native Americans and the issues affecting them today.
The event has happened since the early 1970s, when Frank James, a Wampanoag leader, was barred from giving a speech that portrayed Europeans unfavorably at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims' arrival.
"There's nothing wrong with having a meal with friends and family, and I would say especially for many of us where our families have survived genocide, it's so important for us to be able to sit down with each other and be grateful that we have food and to enjoy spending time with each other," said Mahtowin Munro, a co-leader of United American Indians of New England, the group that organizes the event, who has attended every year since the 1980s.
"The real underlying issue is the mythology; there's a view that we're this big melting pot country, or there's a view that the Natives and the Pilgrims lived happily ever after and the Native people just evaporated into the woods or something to make way for the Pilgrims and all of the other aspects of the European invasion," she continued. "All around the country, schools continue to dress up their children in little Pilgrim and Indian costumes and the Indians welcome the Pilgrims and they all sit down together and everybody says 'Isn't that cute, that's so nice.' That's not at all what happened."
Munro said that her group encourages both Native Americans as well as non-Native Americans to attend the National Day of Mourning, where she expects speakers to touch on what happened to Native people, but also focus on contemporary issues like high dropout and suicide rates among Native American youth.
The suicide rate among Native Americans between ages 15 and 24 is 2.5 times the national rate, and the graduation rate among American Indians and Alaska Natives is the lowest for any racial or ethnic group, according to a 2014 White House report.
Munro added that she expects speakers to discuss efforts to get sports teams to change offensive mascots and names, express solidarity with the "Black Lives Matter" movement, and highlight the disproportionate number of Native Americans who are killed by police.
After the demonstration concludes, some who attend will leave to go and have a Thanksgiving meal with their families, while others will stay for a feast and social planned by event organizers, Munro said.
Ramona Peters, a tribal historic preservation officer for the Mashpee Wampanoag, said that highlighting the horrific treatment of Native Americans won't stop her tribe from having a celebration to give thanks -- something it did long before the Pilgrims arrived and does multiple times each year, not just on the day recognized as Thanksgiving.
The celebration started on the weekend before the holiday, with some Wampanoag going to church dressed in regalia to pray and then to a traditional fire where members of the tribe can gather to give thanks for the season -- an event that can last multiple days.
While Peters said that she's angry at the way that Native Americans were treated, she's proud that the United States has a holiday to give thanks.
"As far as actually extending friendliness, I don't want to be embarrassed or ashamed of that as a Wampanoag person," she said. "It's part of our culture and we had been that way long before they arrived and we still are."
Julien Gignac - APTN National News
The Mohawk community at the centre of the Oka Crisis is leading plans to hold a ceremony aimed at solidifying an Indigenous alliance against the proposed Energy East pipeline.
Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said the ceremony is expected to take place in British Columbia this coming spring.
Simon said he first raised the idea of the alliance during a September Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs meeting. Simon said the “Indigenous Treaty” would create a “formal alliance between anyone who would be inclined to reject the pipeline proposals going through native territories.”
Konnie LeMay - Indian Country Today
Gray wolves are back, which makes it time to take the iconic animal off the Endangered Species List, many wolf researchers believe. But tribes oppose the measure.
More than two dozen wolf researchers—including the founder of the International Wolf Center—sent a letter on November 18 to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior calling for the gray wolf to again be delisted in the Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“We support the Endangered Species Act and feel it has resulted in the successful recovery of gray wolves in this region,” wrote Adrian Wydeven, coordinator of the Timber Wolf Alliance at Northland College in Ashland, in the letter. “It is time for wolves in this region to return to state management and for the Endangered Species Act to focus funds and resources on truly endangered wildlife.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, many schools throughout the U.S. are making preparations for the standard, and all too cliché, Thanksgiving Day lessons, and fairy tale-esque Thanksgiving plays.
And more often than not, the school Thanksgiving activities are largely based on what ultimately amounts to myth, created to serve the imaginations of the dominant society, and simultaneously functioning to erase the tragedies of Indigenous nations.
Following the Lakota People’s Law Project’s comprehensive study demonstrating widespread corruption in South Dakota’s state government, the Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state’s Department of Social Services for racist hiring practices.
“Our investigative report and the DOJ’s lawsuit mark the beginning of the public revelation of the racism and financial corruption that characterize the state of South Dakota’s treatment of Lakota people,” said LPLP Attorney Chase Iron Eyes. “Several state officials have worked in close association with members of the private sector to enrich themselves while tearing apart Indian families in direct and willful violation of federal law. We urge the Department of Justice to deepen and expand their legal action.”
Shari Okeke, CBC News
Within minutes of meeting Morning Star Orr, it's easy to understand why the soft-spoken elder is so respected and beloved in Montreal's aboriginal community.
She's well known for helping people heal emotional wounds by leading healing circles, in which a group gathers in a circle to listen to her teachings and express their own emotions.
"Sometimes people are so happy to hear these teachings that they weep...They see their own journey that is similar," she said.
Leif Larsen, CBC News
A Manitoba man wants to sell a 7,000-year-old spearhead that he found near Sagkeeng First Nation, but an archeologist says that could land him on the wrong side of the law.
Ken Swampy was walking around the Winnipeg River in 2009 when he noticed the spearhead on the shore.
Swampy says it's not the first thing he's found, but certainly one of the most valuable.
Jody Porter, CBC News
The Assembly of First Nation's regional chief for Ontario is concerned that people affected by testimony at the First Nations student deaths inquest aren't getting the support they need.
The inquest is looking into the deaths of seven First Nations students from remote First Nations who died in Thunder Bay, Ont. between 2000 and 2011. It began in October and is scheduled to run until March.
Regional Chief Isadore Day said "a lot of wounds are being opened up" at the inquest and he questions if the process is "equipped to ensure people are safe" as they hear details about the deaths for the first time.
The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce is hoping a trip to the Osoyoos First Nation in British Columbia will yield some valuable business lessons.
A dozen delegates from the business community, and a number of First Nations organizations are visiting Osoyoos this week.
The Osoyoos First Nation is well known for its successful economic development.
Chamber president Charla Robinson said there's a lot to be learned from their business experience.