Thanksgiving Reflections November 2022

At this point in my life, I greet each morning with gratitude for all of the gifts I’ve been given and for the ancestors and wise beings who have been a guiding and protective presence. I ask only that they help me hold center with compassion, patience, and integrity in good times and bad as I walk my path, perhaps chosen consciously in a previous lifetime. I try to follow the wisdom conveyed by the Ojibwe principle of “doing things when the time is right,” and I hope that this is the right time to share where I am in my manuscript editing journey.

This morning I awoke with a deep but gentle sorrow and tears in my eyes thinking about what my ancestors endured, and what too many people around the globe are experiencing now because we have failed to learn from the past.

In a few days, November 24, 2022, people in the United States will be celebrating Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday meant to honor the sharing of food and companionship between colonists fleeing from oppression in England and the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (now referred to as North America). But a mere three centuries after that romanticized celebration of unity, the following excepts describe the consequences of hospitality for those who helped the new arrivals survive.

This post will not be an easy read for those with tender hearts. It’s drawn from the chapter that stopped my editing process eight years ago. I often say I stopped because I was too busy teaching. That’s partly true. Mostly I stopped because it was too difficult for me to set aside my deep sorrow each week in order to be fully present for students. Yet my muse tells me it’s time to move on, and time to share these excepts with others.

***

Although centuries of colonial domination affected all aspects of the lives of Native American people, the effects were, in Peter’s* language, “off the radar.” Few outside of tribal communities knew about the dire conditions Indigenous people endured before 1928. That was the year the “Miriam Report” was published, 891 pages in length, documenting the social and economic conditions of tribes. The report,

… revealed an existence filled with poverty, suffering, and discontent. Indians suffered from disease and malnutrition, had a life expectancy of only forty-four years, and had an average annual per capita income of only one hundred dollars. The report reached two basic conclusions: (1) The BIA ** [Bureau of Indian Affairs] was inadequately meeting the needs of Indians, especially in the areas of health and education; and (2) Indians were being excluded from the management of their own affairs. (O’Brien, 1989, pp. 80-81)

            The conditions for children and families documented in the Miriam Report have direct links to the present issues that Carrie* [the tribal child welfare coordinator], Peter* [a State regional field representative who worked with countries and tribes], and Karen* [the counselor for the tribal alcohol and drug addiction treatment program] described in their interviews. Given the crucial importance of the issues the Miriam Report researchers covered, excerpts from the report follow. The excepts also illustrate how prevailing beliefs and perspectives at the time the study was conducted influence the interpretations and analyses reported by otherwise highly qualified and objective researchers.

***

Family and Community Development. The Indian Service has not appreciated the fundamental importance of family life and community activities in the social and economic development of a people. The long continued policy of removing children from the home and placing them for years in boarding school largely disintegrates the family and interferes with developing normal family life. The belief has apparently been that the shortest road to civilization is to take children away from their parents and insofar as possible to stamp out the old Indian life. The Indian community activities particularly have often been opposed if not suppressed. The fact has been appreciated that both the family life and the community activities have many objectionable features, but the action taken has often been the radical one of attempting to destroy rather than the educational process of gradual modification and development” (p. 15) …

Strains Imposed by the System of Education. Indian families are subjected to peculiar strains growing out of their relation to the government. Some of the projects of the government, notably the appointment of field workers to deal with home conditions, have tended to strengthen family bonds. But on the whole government practices may be said to have operated against the development of wholesome family life.

Chief of these is the long continued policy of educating the children in boarding schools far from their homes, taking them from their parents when small and keeping them away until parents and children become strangers to each other. The theory was once held that the problem of the race could be solved by educating the children, not to return to the reservation, but to be absorbed one by one into the white population. This plan involved the permanent breaking of family ties, but provided the for the children a substitute for their own family life by placing them in good homes of whites for vacations and sometimes longer, the so-called “outing system.” The plan failed, partly because it was weak on the vocational side, but largely by reason of its artificiality. Nevertheless, this worst of its features still persists, and many children today have not seen their parents or brothers and sisters in years… (pp. 573-574) …

The real tragedy, however, is not loss by death but the disruption of family life and its effect on the character of both parents and children. The personal care of helpless offspring is the natural expression of affection no less among Indians than among parents of other races. No observer can doubt that Indian parents are very fond of their children, and though the care they give may be from the point of view of white parents far from adequate, yet the emotional needs of both parents and children are satisfied… (p. 575)…

Effects of the System upon Children. The effects of early depravation of family life are apparent in the children. They too are the victims of an arrested development. The experience of the white race abundantly demonstrates that institutional children, even with the best of care, have greater health and personality difficulties than children in families. Affection of an intimate sort is essential to development. Recognizing this fact the better societies for the care of dependent white children have for many years been placing their wards out in families as rapidly as the very delicate adjustment involved can be made. Even in institutions for the care of dependent white children the children are there because they have no homes or because normal home life is impossible, and very few are taken forcibly from their parents. But many children are in Indian schools as the result of coercion of one kind or another and they suffer under a sense of separation from home and parents. Since initiative and independence are not developed under the rigid routine of the school, the whole system increases the child’s sentiment for dependence on parental decisions and children in their teens go back to their mother with a six-year old’s feeling for her.

Under normal conditions the experience of family life is of itself a preparation for future parenthood. Without this experience of the parent-child relation throughout the developmental period Indian young people must suffer under a serious disability in their relations with their own children. No kind of formal training can possibly make up for this lack, nor can the outing system when the child is half grown supplement what he has missed in his own family and with his own race in earlier years. (pp. 576-577).

***

This is just an except from one chapter of a rather long manuscript to try to show a small part of the legacy of loss that has continued to affect each generation of Native Americans in the US, as it did for me this morning and many other times in my life. It’s a deep, often unhealed, wound survivors of genocide and colonial domination carry and pass on to the next generations.

I don’t have the answers for resolving these issues. Perhaps I will have a few ideas when I finish editing my manuscript. But for now, I offer this post in hopes that it will inspire others to be both grateful for the gifts they have been given and compassionate for those who suffer.

*

* Note that these are not people’s real names.

** Here’s a link for more information about the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): https://www.bia.gov/bia

Works Cited

Sharon O’Brien, American Indian Tribal Governments (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), pp.  80-81.

Lewis Meriam and Others, The Problem of Indian Administration. Report of a Survey Made at the Request of Honorable Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior, and Submitted to Him, February 21, 1928. (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1928).

Acknowledgement

In loving memory of my mother, a gentle and gifted healer, who was born on an Ojibwe reservation on March 1, 1921, and died on October 10, 2010, just before what would have been her 89th Thanksgiving.

mother 1

 My mother, age 7, before removal to a Catholic-run Indian Boarding School

mother 2

My mother on her Confirmation Day. It wasn’t until her later years during the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease that she told me how much she hated the Catholic Church because of what they did to her. She never shared those stories.

mother 3

My mother at home after Boarding School. She was the first Ojibwe from her reservation to attend the local public high school in the nearby Euro-American border town and, despite discrimination, or perhaps because of it, graduated as salutatorian of her class.

mother 4

Retirement from the tribal clinic she helped establish on her reservation.

44 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Reflections November 2022

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  1. Carol, my friend, thank you for speaking these truths. I find truth has a way of cultivating and nurturing memories from the past and reflection on the present. Your message brings to mind the little boy in the story “when the legends die “and how desperate he was to return to the words. Your message also brings to mind the potential for the destruction of the Klamath river dam, which will return the salmon to the indigenous people. 10,000 years and we are here scarred but still here. Peace to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ray, thank you for your thoughtful, lovely comments. I never read the book you mentioned by Hal Borland, but I’ve added it to my list of things to read. It sounds like a powerful, poignant story,
      It is exciting that the dams may come down soon. Let’s hope that comes to pass.
      And yes, we are still here doing our best to heal what we can. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing heart work and super necessary. Thanks for sharing and setting a beautiful example. Telling the facts as they are — with such “compassion, patience, and integrity, just as your intention outlines in your opening.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carol, I’m happy that you’re making progress on editing your manuscript, despite the pain of remembering. You’re playing an important role in documenting the stories of trauma of your people. May your Thanksgiving Day be the best it can be for you and your family ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your always thoughtful and encouraging comments, Ros. Editing is a long journey, isn’t it? It’s made me appreciate how much work you have had to do to write not just one, but two, books! I’m sure it was not an easy journey for you, either.
      I look forward to having time to read your work when I’m finished. But for now, I have to keep editing and researching details on topics to include in endnotes. I hope you and your family have a lovely Thanksgiving Day, too. 💜

      Like

  4. Carol, I send you energy and light to release the sorrow of the past. Because I have seen and know the seeds you planted, the tears and suffering of your ancestors are blooming in your descendants. Here in Alaska are several active organizations and non-profits doing educational, environmental, and community organizing. And we’re keeping our fingers crossed for our first Alaska Native rep to return to DC. Now you are sharing the stories so the journey remains clear and true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your kindness and support have always been such a gift, Skywalker. Thank you. Mary Peltola’s success in the election is so hopeful and exciting! And I’m grateful to hear about the efforts in Alaska to address environmental and Alaska Native issues. It’s also exciting to see the increasing recognition of Native American voices on environmental issues. I hope the same will happen for health and human services, too. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My grandmother was born in 1911 on a Choctaw reservation. She and her sister attended boarding school in Oklahoma. I’m happy they had each other. I don’t know much about their school or that time, but as I read your post, I see some of the effects. Thank you for your research and for sharing, Carol. Wishing you the best with your book!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and this update on your book. In the stories there is a continuity that stands to benefit so many and is so necessary. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this book before, because it’s so disturbing, but this seems like a good time, at least as good as it gets. While it takes place in Canada, there are so many parallels I thought you might want to take a look at his research:
    Murder by Decree is an uncensored record of the planned extermination of indigenous children in Canada’s murderous “Indian residential schools”. It is issued as a corrective Counter Report to the miscarriage of justice by Church and State known as the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” (TRC). Based on eyewitness testimonies and archival documentation deliberately suppressed or ignored by the TRC, Murder by Decree proves that the genocide of indigenous people began as a religion-led campaign and continues to be a deliberate governmental policy in Canada. This Counter Report reveals these startling facts: – Over half of Indian residential school children began dying the very first year these church-run facilities were opened – This huge mortality rate continued unabated for over a half century because of deliberate practices of germ warfare according to a prescribed monthly “death quota” – Evidence of these crimes and their intentional nature has been continually destroyed by the RCMP and the Catholic, Anglican and United Church since at least 1960 – The same genocide continues today, is aimed at indigenous women and children, and is driven by foreign corporate interests hungry for native lands and resources Murder by Decree is issued by The International Tribunal for the Disappeared of Canada (ITDC), an international coalition of jurists and human rights groups. The ITDC was formed in December, 2015 to investigate the disappearance of people in Canada, prosecute those responsible and prevent a further whitewash by Canada of its Crimes against Humanity. This report is an answer to these crimes and an urgent summons to the world and to all Canadians to live no longer under genocidal regimes. Published by the ITDC Central Offices in Brussels and Toronto. For more information: disappearedofcanada@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for validating the importance of uncovering forbidden history, KH. Your detailed discussion of “Murder by Decree” is so relevant and compelling. I will check it our for sure, as soon as I can. I have 20 more chapters to edit before I reach the end and then have to think about how to write the conclusion.
      Although my research focused on one tribal community in the US, I have read some information about the experiences of Indigenous Peoples in other nations “colonized” by the British – Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It’s appalling and heart-breaking to see the similarities (in some cases even worse than the US), and it still continues in both subtle and gross ways. If you’re interested, I can send you a comparative table. It will probably be updated and added in an appendix at the end of the book.
      Again, I am deeply grateful to you for the time and effort you spent on your comment. And thank you for caring! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Painful for you to write and also painful to read. While I knew of the intergenerational wounds caused by the coerced removal of children from their families, I had never heard of the Miriam Report. I’m glad the authors were so articulate about the racism and damage, but it’s so disheartening to think of the many voices that were raised over the decades and not heard. I do think (or would like to) that white America is listening (at least somewhat) better these days and your work will have a greater impact. I know you’ve already had a striking impact as a teacher. I hope your book gets you an even wider audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for you thoughtful comments, Diane. I was hoping to hear from you. Your support, suggestions, and perspectives have been incredibly helpful over the years. You’ve taught me so many important things through your writing, advocacy, example, and feedback. And you’re right about this being a difficult journey. But I think you’ve discovered through your own work with survivors of so many different kinds of trauma that the only way to heal is to face it, to learn to understand it from a historical perspective, to realize that it’s an experience that too many others have shared. I have 20 more chapters to go. and will probably disappear from blogging again for a while. Chi miigwetch for your kindness, dear friend. 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing a part of your story!!.. hopefully with today’s technology and knowledge folks like you will be able to help others be aware and in time make this a better world for all!!… 🙂

    Hope your path is paved with love and happiness, you have the mostest wonderfulest Happy Thanksgiving ever and until we meet again..
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Carol, I just finished reading this essay by an Australian Aboriginal writer, Alexis Wright, that might have some nuggets of inspiration for you. https://emergencemagazine.org/essay/the-inward-migration-in-apocalyptic-times/ Here is an excerpt: “We will need the bravest of writers, those who will search ceaselessly through the backwaters of their minds, hearts, and souls to find ways to powerfully articulate the new stories, the new sagas, the new imagination, and the new epics of the world, inspired by their doubt, fear, love, longing, and wondering. They will need to see beauty despite the destruction, experience deep sorrow, and find that incorruptible truth amid the growing dust storms.” Wishing you strength to move forward with what must not be forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You are so welcome, Carol. I am always inspired by your insights and sharings. On a slightly different but related tangent: I am coming close to finishing the book I’ve been working on the last two years. While I am committed to bringing in the theme of climate change and its tremendous cost to humans, especially indigenous populations who have contributed very little, if anything, to global warming, it is such a gut-wrenching, overwhelming, too-big-to-fully-wrap-my-brain-and-heart around subject that I often feel discouraged in weaving it through the book. And it takes an emotional toll. But I can’t just ignore it or pretend it doesn’t affect all aspects of our existence. We need to support each other in the heavy-lifting required by writing that demands truth telling.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you so much for your kindness, Annette, and congratulations on nearing the finish of your book! I have realized just how much work that is.
          You’ve captured the difficulty of continuing well. There’s so much to cover and one’s heart often grieves in the process. I’ve only edited about 2/3rds of my manuscript (400 pages that include at least 50 pages of endnotes). There are discoveries of hope and resilience in peoples’ stories despite interwoven forces of oppression. Although the book is based on a research journey, I’m not really sure how it will end. That seems to shift with each new chapter. Yet the writing and editing are like the research journey itself, with so much more to learn to tell the story as completely and accurately as possible. I wish you the best with your book, and send my gratitude and best wishes. 💜

          Like

  10. This makes my heart sore, Carol. Thank you for sharing and for finding the strength and courage to finish your manuscript. More than ever, the truth needs to be preserved. And thank you for ending with your mom and her incredible resilience and achievements despite the oppression, poverty, and cruelty she endured. I’m grateful for her and for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, lovely comments, Diana. In this arduous process of editing and re-editing, I am often in awe of your ability to craft new worlds that come to life in your writing. But as one of the Ojibwe elders said when she shared her suffering and resilience – “sharing the story of my journey with others will be worth it if it helps at least one other person.” 💜

      Like

      1. Sometimes it just takes one voice, one story, to change everything, but more often progress is painfully slow. Because it comes down to a choice for justice, respect, and accountability, and those redemptive qualities seem far too rare. ❤ ❤ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Your mother sounds like an amazing person. I guess it’s too much of a cliche to complain about the things done to people in the name of “religion,” which make absolutely no sense and have nothing to do with any kind of god or sense of genuine spirituality. But she not only overcame but went beyond and helped a lot of people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Stacey. My mother was amazing in many ways. I’m not sure how she found the strength and resilience to remain kind and giving given the challenges she had to overcome. It’s both a blessing and weighty responsibility to try to live up to her example… 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Yeah, it went through anyway! Haha. Sorry about that. I’m the definition of a Luddite, although I’m not AGAINST technology, necessarily. I just don’t get most of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No need to apologize, Stacey. I was going to add something similar in my second comment. I still use the “classic” editor to post. It’s more than the time and steep learning curve involved in to figuring out the “block editor.” I’m not a big fan of enforced conformity in anything! But the constant changes always leave me guessing what’s coming next. Maybe that’s a subtle reaction to things that feel like colonial domination marketed as “we’re doing it for your own good”?

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Same here, Carol! I diligently search out classic and continue to use it like a bulldog, lol.
    ‘Cause it DOES feel like electronic colonial domination!!

    Liked by 1 person

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