No thanks, no giving: Thanksgiving story masks hard reality

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Photo Credit: Brittany Le | Daily Texan Staff

In traditions all over the world, the last harvest of the season marks a celebration for giving thanks. In our colonial society, the holiday is based on the narrative of a puritan sect of English refugees who invaded Wampanoag
territory in Northeast Turtle Island. 

After the mythic feast, the English broke initial truces and killed every last person of the Wampanoag tribe and others. America was born. The harvest that is still celebrated today is colonialism. 

Surely many poor and displaced people in this country are thankful for a roof over their heads or the food they have to eat.  The dispossessed are thankful to escape the fate of their indigenous ancestors.  

But what are today’s pilgrims thankful for — the land their ancestors stole to exploit and the spoils of oil and war that put turkey on their tables? 

How can we reconcile the founding narrative of this country, the reality of the violence and treachery it is based upon and our contemporary social world?

There is no thanks here. There is no giving. There is only taking. 

The taking is consistent. This was seen when land was flipped for profit developers at the expense of the long-standing residents to Indonesia, where the indigenous peoples of Irian Jaya were violently displaced by the world’s largest gold mine, owned and operated by Austin-based Freeport McMoRan.

This is the culture that was born of pilgrims and Indians. Colonization is more than a taking of land. It is a supplanting of sovereignty from one of thanksgiving to one of no thanks and no giving.  

Indigenous lifeways are rooted in creating and maintaining reciprocal relationships with the natural world.  That is the relational worldview of indigenous groups all over the world. We are thankful for the life-giving and divine world we live upon and of all of our relations here.

The colonizer worldview is one of objectification and denying agency or divinity to anything that is not human (and usually only to white men). This worldview is the root of capitalism and the global extraction-based economy. The ongoing exploitation of the world’s resources is the morally bankrupt culture of domination and its fruit is global climate disruption. These values are as present today as ever.

The recent coup in Bolivia overthrew an indigenous government in order to control resources. The Amazon is being invaded and the forest burned, much like Texas was 200 years ago, also for resources. Standing Rock is being invaded, for pipelines that are currently spilling, by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. 

Texas is being invaded in perpetuity when the native people of this land are not recognized. We are faced with extraction and exploitation of our land and peoples.  

Those who receive spoils from these colonial harvests are taught that they must be just. This is the knowledge they learn through the myth of Thanksgiving. 

The pilgrims committed genocide. Let’s at least be honest about that, so we can look upon our current world and value what little truth has survived.  Let the land beneath your feet tell the story of the thousands who lost their lifeways so the extraction economy could root here. 

The culture of the United States is not the breakers of bread — it is the breaker of treaties.  The culture of Texas is not the planters of corn — it is the planters of pipelines and strip mines.  

Our current political conundrums are not about party or ideology. They are about the destruction of the entire planet. 

The world will give thanks when the people of this land stop taking, for once, and instead show thanks for this world and all it continues to give.  

Give thanks that you have not suffered as others have by your ancestor’s hands or by the hands currently manufacturing destruction upon our world.  

It is time to work together to undo the wrongs of the past and to halt the wrongs of the present. Those in need will always be welcome at our tables, but the violence must end now.

Tane Ward is the director of Equilibrio Norte, an Austin-based decolonial organizing project.