No Turkey for Me: Confessions of an Indian Militant
By Johnny P. Flynn
Posted on November 25, 2009, Printed on November 26, 2009
I am an Indian militant. It is a name I wear with some ambivalence—like “Indian”—not my choice, but the alternatives for the sake of political correctness do not have the same power or panache.
This year, while most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indian militants—around the time the term was coined. I was too young at the time, but supported those making the ironic statement about the quality of our own lands “given” to our ancestors, and the broken promise that any federal lands not in use will revert back to the Indians.
While you eat turkey, we will fast, or eat hot dogs.
Over the years Indian militants have also been called communists, fascists, socialists, and radicals bent on destroying America. In fact, those names—which cancel each other out in any logical mind—have been applied in recent months to another tribal man, Luo of Kenya, who occupies the Oval Office at the moment.
As an Indian militant I am discouraged, but not surprised, that the mainstream media has so far failed to recognize the stomp-down amazing fact that we not only have the first African American president, but the first tribal president in American history. Millions of Americans spend billions of dollars through genealogists or DNA tests trying to trace their ancestry to Indian tribes in America, or the tribes of Africa, and Barack Obama knows—and so do I.
Ndaw nishnabe podwewadmi ewi chigwe dodem: I am a Potawatomi of the Strikes the Earth People.
We know that Thanksgiving is a holiday forged from the fires Puritans used to burn the victims of their war against the Pequod Indians in Massachusetts in 1637. We cringe when millions of children in thousands of schools across America use this month to re-create the First Thanksgiving, crafting hats and feathers out of construction paper.
We also know that this is not the only time of the year they will eat “Indian foods.” Americans throughout the year will eat Italian food made with tomatoes that came from Indian gardens. Over Christmas and Easter much of the Christian world will consume celebratory candies, pies, cakes, and soda made from chocolate and corn syrup which also originated from Indian gardens. Of course the pumpkins used for pie and Halloween, the potatoes, corn, squash, and even the pecan pie can be added to that list.
They will soothe their swollen heads with aspirin, which is synthetic white willow bark, also brought to the world’s pharmacopeia from an American Indian medicine kit.
Blood and Fire
We also know the history of the real First Thanksgiving is too horrifying for Americans to digest. It would stick in their gullets like a bad drumstick. So they will never know or accept that the Puritan militia at the Pequod massacre drove or threw the living victims on those fires and when they burst, their blood put the fires out. So the fires were ordered to be relit, three times.
How do you make that out of construction paper?
And then Governor John Winthrop ordered a day of Thanksgiving to be set aside: “Thus did the Lord judge among the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.”
We know that when the passengers on the Mayflower landed in November of 1620, the first thing they did, the very first act they perpetrated, was to rob the graves of the Indians who lived near Corn Hill on Cape Cod. And we know that is the reason, the real reason, Pilgrims starved that first winter. They robbed Indian graves.
The next spring when the local Indians brought in Tisquantum (Squanto) to interpret, he told the Pilgrims was they needed to return the jewelry stolen from the bodies. And we also know that the grave-robbing did not stop.
We know that universities and museums still hold hostage thousands of Indian burials and the majority of Indian “artifacts” on display around the world are actually grave goods stolen from Indian cemeteries.
Tribal and aboriginal people are denigrated as heathens and primitives while we are alive, but when we are dead, our art, jewelry, even our very bodies, have value to the dominant society as research materials. And one of the things they want to know is why we passed from the face of the earth.
Turning to Tribal Tradition for Spiritual Sustenance
Okay, now that your Thanksgiving meal is ruined, let me confess that I know a way to make it taste better next year.
Without a major shift in the way humans thinks about the earth, humans are not only causing the extinction of the biodiversity of the natural world, but also our own descendents. Facing the future must be more than driving a hybrid and recycling aluminum.
We must recognize that tribalism is the most successful human social institution in the world. Tribes have survived the longest war in human history, the war against aboriginal people—and millions of people are turning to those traditions for spiritual sustenance in the modern world.
Preservation of native languages, the key to understanding our philosophy, should be paramount to all universities and museums. While academics are assisting living traditions to preserve our languages and cultures, they need to release the dead and their last offerings they now hold captive. If the Pilgrims could do it in order to learn native agricultural practices, so too can modern society.
Finally, all Americans need to celebrate the tribal roots of President Obama. His two beautiful children deserve to know their tribal ancestry to save them and their descendents from having to someday wonder in what soil their roots might linger. And if they can do it for him, they will be more inclined to do it for all tribal people.
Mno ngom pne: Happy Turkey Day.
Johnny P. Flynn is a Potawatomi Indian who happens to be a faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. Indiana means “place of the Indians.”