I’ve heard the advice not to talk about religion or politics at family gatherings, advice I have followed on numerous occasions. But the costs of that silence are missed opportunities to move along the path toward Beloved community together. As my friend Christine Nobiss writes below, change can occur as individuals awaken to the true history of White settlers and Native peoples. How can we go about that in a way that doesn’t immediately result in people shutting down, or reacting angrily, neither of which result in any progress.
This process has to begin by decolonizing ourselves.
Thanksgiving needs a complete overhaul, in the same way Columbus Day is slowly being revisioned as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. To celebrate the current Thanksgiving mythology is to celebrate the act of land expansion through ethnic cleansing and slavery — most of which happened at the point of a gun. It is masked recognition that this country was founded on the actions of generations of Europeans who depended on the joint violence of genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African people to conquer this land, the legacy of which is still felt today.
Generations of American values are responsible for institutionalizing the Thanksgiving mythology, but ultimately, change can occur as individuals awaken to the reality that their Thanksgiving meals celebrate a violent, whitewashed history, and begin the process of truth-telling, healing and reconciliation.Thanksgiving Promotes Whitewashed History, So I Organized Truthsgiving Instead by Christine Nobiss, Bustle, Nov 16, 2018.
I think the following from Guy Jones in the book cited below is an example of a way to begin a conversation that doesn’t make people feel defensive and upset. So they are able to listen and respond. Stories are ways to take the focus off the individuals involved in the conversation.
Today, people say to me, “Don’t worry—those days of having another culture’s religion imposed in school will never happen again; there are laws now to keep that from happening.” As they speak to me, I remember an incident involving my youngest son when he was in kindergarten in a Midwestern, urban school. His teacher held up a sheet of paper and asked him, “What color is this?”“Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms,” by Guy W. Jones (Hunkpapa Lakota) and Sally Moomaw (2002).
“It’s the color of the sky, ” he answered.
“Wrong,” she responded. Holding up another sheet of paper, she asked again, “What color is this?”
“It’s the color of the leaves and grass,” he answered.
“Wrong,” she told him again.
No, she wasn’t quoting from scriptures like the teachers I had, but she was still controlling his thinking. He had responded in accord with his Native teachings, to draw relationships to the natural world he was tied to. When he didn’t give her the answer she was seeking, she essentially told him that not only was he wrong, but his traditional teachings were also wrong. So I am still concerned about the educational system today.
I’ve used the following slide when talking about connections between Native and non-native peoples, but it also applies to situations between individuals with different social or political views.
The problem with avoiding difficult conversations is we don’t make progress. Just ignoring these discussions means the underlying, unspoken tensions remain. And will not go away until we find ways to discuss them with family and friends.