Myths and Mourning.....
Myths, mourning, make Thanksgiving complicated for American Indians Storm Reyes; Guest columnist
As a native person, I approach Thanksgiving with mixed emotions. I find the sentiment of the holiday admirable, but am uncomfortable with the myth.
In elementary school, my son learned the Thanksgiving myth about the Indians and Pilgrims sitting down together for a feast to celebrate Pilgrim salvation from
starvation. In high school, there were a few short paragraphs in his U.S. history
textbook that briefly summarized an accurate account of that meal, although it did
not mention the massacres and tragedies inflicted on the Indian hosts by their Pilgrim guests just a few years later. About 30 years ago, the American Indian Movement declared Thanksgiving to be a National Indian Day of Mourning. I well remember that event. Looking back, I like to see myself as a fiery young radical, raising a defiant fist in the air and
screaming at the injustices suffered from the time of that first Thanksgiving.
I would hear the stories of the atrocities and weep with anger and pain. I expected every other Indian to share my sense of outrage and to scorn Thanksgiving as I did.
As the young so often do, I forgot that years of experience and wisdom sometimes
give elders a different perspective.
That first Day of Mourning, I dressed carefully to attend an event. I braided my
thigh-length hair and slipped a black mourning armband around my forearm. As I was preparing to walk out the door, the phone rang. It was my father, asking
me to stop at the store and pick up something for the Thanksgiving meal before
coming to the house. I proudly told him that I would be grieving in Seattle with my
red brothers and sisters on this Day of Mourning. After a brief silence, he told
me in a no-nonsense tone that my mother needed something from the store and he was counting on me. I rather ungraciously agreed to run the errand.
When I arrived, he was standing outside waiting to speak with me privately. He asked why I wasn't coming to dinner and what was this Day of Mourning? As I expounded at great length, he just quietly stood there in the cold, nodding his
head gravely and making listening noises. And when I finished, he looked in my
eyes and spoke so quietly I had to strain to hear. "Stormy, last year I got a job in the Tideflats and we got out of the fields. Your mother and I bought a trailer, and we have a real home. This year, I had the money to buy a turkey and potatoes and greens for a salad. Your mother has a real oven to cook that turkey in, and she spent the last two days cleaning our
home and baking pies and preparing a Thanksgiving meal. "I called the military bases and asked if there were any Indian boys that couldn't get home for the holiday and told them to send the boys over here for a good dinner, so we got four young warriors coming to dinner. "Stormy, I worked real hard for the money to buy this good food. Your mother worked real hard to prepare our home and cook that good food. Those young Indian men work real hard to protect us all, and I wish to share that good food
with them. And for all this, I give thanks. "You'll hurt your mother if you don't eat her good cooking because she remembers when you were hungry and there wasn't much food. You'll hurt me because I want you there to share our blessings. You'll hurt those young men who are missing sisters and loved ones at home and have a chance to feel a little bit at home for a while. "Stormy, unbraid your hair, take off that armband and come sit with us and give
thanks for this day. Besides, I really like turkey, and your mother is a good cook!"
I cried a little for the times long past and not so long past. I cried for the look of
pride in my father's eyes that he could feed his family and share his blessings
with strangers. I unbraided my hair, took off my armband and entered a home filled with good smells, welcoming smiles and loving hugs. Today I celebrate the heart of Thanksgiving, not the myth. I still cringe at those
holiday decorations of cute little Indians and cute little Pilgrims. I will give thanks
that this year the site of the Sand Creek Massacre has been declared a historic
monument and America is beginning to replace its myths with the truth. But on Thanksgiving, there will be strangers sitting at my table in a house filled
with good turkey dinner smells. I've learned that this world needs peacemakers
just as much as it needs warriors, and blessings are to be shared, not hoarded.
Storm Reyes, who is of Puyallup Indian heritage, lives in Tacoma's McKinley Hill neighborhood. She writes once a month as a guest columnist for the Perspectives Page.
You can reach Storm at