Solidarity with Red Power, Not Thanksgiving

Solidarity with Red Power, Not Thanksgiving

Taji Amani

December 4, 2020 / 6320 AFK

Thanksgiving is a painful day for many indigenous and Afro-indigenous people in the United States. Many people observe this day as a Day of Mourning. While I identify my ethnicity as primarily African, black or African-American, I recognize that my liberation from systems of oppression is directly supported by the liberation of indigenous or Native American people from systems of oppression. Thanksgiving has a multifaceted heritage. However, celebrating on this Day of Mourning while remaining indifferent to the racist terrorism that sometimes accompanied this tradition preserves those oppressive systems and is rooted in white nationalism. In effect, unquestioned celebration of this day reaffirms American indifference to native people's suffering and to the systems that harm indigenous people today.

Engraving of John Horse, black Seminole freedom fighter (1812-1882)


What's wrong with Thanksgiving if it gives us a day to be with the people we care about?

In North America, colonial legislatures and, later, state and federal legislatures implemented laws that explicitly granted legal rights to "white" people and explicitly stripped legal rights from "Indian" people. This legally codified ethnonationalism was a foundational component in the formation of the current, American state, its private sector and its culture for centuries. Under this system of white nationalism, early European colonists, and later, state and federal governments, attacked, raided and massacred indigenous people on hundreds of occasions. The Father of the United States, George Washington, ordered terroristic raids against indigenous peoples in the interest of "our future security". Sometimes, such attacks were followed by a day of Thanksgiving. In that respect, modern Thanksgivings descend from a white nationalist ritual that historically celebrated a variety of things, including killing indigenous people.

Fortunately, this isn't most people's motivation for celebrating Thanksgiving today. Opportunities to be with family and friends can be rare and many of us will rightfully take any socially acceptable excuse to see them when we can. However, systems of racism do not require its participants to feel any ill will toward native people in order to harm native communities. This is the difference between systemic and interpersonal racism.

Indigenous communities from across the US have taken and continue to take their urgent concerns through the proper administrative and electoral channels that US “democracy” provides. And yet, to this day, their treaty lands are still being stolen, their water is still being polluted and being threatened with pollution, their missing and murdered women are still undervalued and they are still killed by law enforcement in greater proportion than is any other ethnic group in the US. And while very recent data is scarce, Native Americans' median net household wealth is estimated to be near $5,700. None of this requires that people personally hold feelings of ill will toward indigenous people and yet people's indifference - and sometimes, personal interest - re-elects and allows this racist and classist oppression to continue.

Despite people's best intentions, unquestioned and uninformative Thanksgiving celebrations normalize the pain that this day causes many indigenous people. This unconscious participation in the Thanksgiving ritual normalizes disregard for indigenous humanity, indigenous sovereignty and the interests of indigenous people, which happens to be a primary objective of white nationalism. Today, that culture of disregard gives liberal and conservative policy makers social permission to continue violating US treaties in order to steal more native land using militarized police and attack dogs. It also gives financial institutions social permission to finance that theft. So, maintaining this tradition without naming and denouncing its historical connection to violence against indigenous nations actually normalizes activity in government and in the private sector that negatively impacts indigenous communities today.

Red power institutions that reject capitalist visions of "development" and that prioritize the sovereignty and self-determination of indigenous people are needed much more than is Thanksgiving. On this annual Day of Mourning, black people creating black power institutions can reaffirm our openness to mutually beneficial collaboration with red power organizations. Wealthy white people who are interested in racial and economic justice can give financial resources to red power institutions. Instead of celebrating a day that many Native Americans are mourning, African people in the United States can create celebrations for any other reason on any other day out of respect for the oldest nations on this land and the genocide that they've survived. Instead, we can hold vigils, demonstrations, direct actions and economic empowerment initiatives that affirm indigenous peoples lives, sovereignty, power and liberation.

Eddie Benton-Banai, co-founder of American Indian Movement (1931 - November 30, 2020)


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"What is the Red Power Movement?", Fusion

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"Black Seminoles and the Largest Slave Revolt in U.S. History", Learn Liberty