Well, what the hell, so here it comes. Many of you may have been party and/or witnesss to the shitstorm unleashed by my diary on dKos, originally titled “How Dare You Cindy Sheehan?” which appeared last night (out of nowhere) in lieu of another piece I had in mind, originally scheduled to be written under the title “Attitudes of Gratitude” in the “Greetings from Turtle Island” series I have been posting throughout American Indian Heritage Month.

Watching the “gang bang” unfold over there in the course of this day has not been a pleasant experience, but at the same time, it has sort of been like watching the FEMA fiasco unfold in the aftermath of Katrina: all the horrific filth and muck and mire that lies just below the sham-faced surface of this society’s commitment to “diversity”, to “freedom of speech”, to the notion of “one nation under (someone else’s) God” and a whole lot of other empty platitudes  bubbled to the surface and spewed from the pens of so-called “liberals” and “progressives” in a hailstorm of racism, hatred, childish human-being-bashing, and vile refusal to look in the goddamned mirror.  

There is already a far better diary here at Booman Tribune addressing related issues in a much different way, titled “Thanksgiving from the Rez”, posted by Cannibis.  By all means, please read that. It is powerful and perhaps more effective than the approach applied here. This diary has nothing to offer but sheer, unmitigated pain and ugliness–especially now, in the aftermath of the shitstorm.

If you choose to join the gangbangers in blasting me off the page and out of your holiday celebration, my only request is that you do it over there. I am relieved that the diary has since gone off the recommend list–but there is still ample room for you to join in the hate-mongering “fun” on the related diaries currently on the recommend list there. Never could I have ever imagined that I would be so happy to see my diary disappear from the recommended list, and it’s sure not the way I’d ever hoped to get there. The fact that THIS of all things is what it took is again substantiation for everything I have been saying about the so-called “liberal” community and its collective indifference to “alternative lifeways”.

I will not be available for response and/or comment for the remainder of this day. If you can’t stand the heat, I guess, go back to the kitchen. And that’s where I’m headed–I’ve got a loaf of wonder bread in the oven.  

[Note, the original diary by Cindy Sheehan to which this diary originally responded was deleted by the author; the alternative version, which I have not read, is said to have been redacted to eliminate the offensive use of the term “trail of tears.” It is available at Truthout.org.]
Dear Cindy,

I do not know how to begin. Perhaps I should start with a picture. You see the person on with the sign that says MEET WITH CINDY? Yeah. That’s me. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but just in case, here are the words  to go with the picture, from an article expressing my appreciation for all that you do. I trust that you received the flowers I sent for the crosses after they were desecrated, and the small token of financial support I sent to the Crawford Peace House in appreciation, and in memory of your son. I cannot imagine your sorrow and applaud you for what you have done with that pain.  I am moved by your commitment to the cause of peace and to this country. By God, I cannot thank you enough!

As I sit down this evening, knowing it’s probably not a good thing for me, as a person of American Indian descent, to so much as open this Pandora’ box on the eve of what is a “holiday” for mainstream America, but what for me and my people is a day of mourning-commemorating the sacrifices our people have made–the loss of our lifeways, our languages, our families, our ceremonies, above all, our lands–so that your people may continue to occupy these territories (in many cases, illegally, with centuries of your governments support) if not in peace, then at least in relative prosperity, I do not know how to express my own grief, and, now–having made the mistake of reading your diary–my outrage. I ask that you sit down now and listen to me–to my grief, my outrage, and my pain which, tonight, is directed to you (hang on, I’ll get to what you did to twist the knife in my side).

I had no intention of intruding on your holiday celebration, or on anyone else’s–my previous posts attempting to alert this community to its own callous indifference and reckless disregard for Indian issues haven’t exactly gone over like sweet potato pie, and I had pretty much resigned myself to just shutting up about the fact that it is not only Native American Heritage Month and that Thanksgiving is a National Day of Mourning for Us and about the fact that these “issues” are not, contrary to popular misconception, matters of “the distant” past. I had hoped my next post in this series would be an “action item”–a post offering those people in this community who are sensitive to Indian issues and who do care about them some concrete avenues for action. Alas, your diary has once again demonstrated the need for continued persistence in drawing the attention of this community to the many and myriad ways you participate–perhaps unwittingly–in the ongoing assaults against American Indian sensibilities and the rewriting of your own history as well as ours, and I am compelled to respond.

Perhaps you are entirely unaware of the fact that this is for us a day of mourning. One cannot fault you for that–centuries of your statesmen and teachers have [“felt it better this way” http://www.creative-native.com/ . Last year, Michael Moore
posted this explanation on his website:

Even though the first explorers [. . .] had been warned about the heathen savages found in the “New World”, they found the First Peoples [. . .] more than willing to teach them how to survive and live well in their new surroundings. [. . .]

 At the end of their first year, the Puritans held a great feast following the harvest of food from their new farming efforts. The feast honored Squanto and their friends, the Wampanoags. The feast was followed by 3 days of “thanksgiving” celebrating their good fortune. This feast produced the image of the first Thanksgiving that we all grew up with as children. However, things were doomed to change. [. . .]

 An army of over 200 settlers was formed [. . .] Because of the lack of fighting experience, and the vast numbers of the fierce Pequot warriors, Commander John Mason elected not to stage an open battle. Instead, the Pequot were attacked, one village at a time, in the hours before dawn. Each village was set on fire with its sleeping Natives burned alive. Women and children over 14 were captured to be sold as slaves; other survivors were massacred. [. . .]

 In 1641, the Dutch governor of Manhattan offered the first scalp bounty; a common practice in many European countries. This was broadened by the Puritans to include a bounty for Natives fit to be sold for slavery. The Dutch and Puritans joined forces to exterminate all Natives from New England, and village after village fell. Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stanford, Connecticut, the churches of Manhattan announced a day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the savages. This was the 2nd Thanksgiving. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets of Manhattan like soccer balls.

 The killing took on a frenzy, with days of thanksgiving being held after each successful massacre. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape. Their chief was beheaded, and his head placed on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for 24 years. Each town held thanksgiving days to celebrate their own victories over the Natives until it became clear that there needed to be an order to these special occasions. It was George Washington who finally brought a system and a schedule to thanksgiving when he declared one day to be celebrated across the nation as Thanksgiving Day.”

 Thanksgiving: Its True History (East Texas Review, 25. Nov. 04)

But what he might not have made clear is that the abuse is ongoing. The poverty rates (2.6 percent higher for Native Americans than for the rest of America), the suicide rate (190 percent higher for us than for the rest of America), homocide (210 percent), over 50 percent unemployment on or near reservations, 16.9 percent of American Indians without basic phone service (compared to 2.4 percent in the general populace), 14.7 percent without basic plumbing (compared to 1.2 percent for the rest), and on and on and on.

Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag) put it this way in their statement on the subject last year

When we dare to stand up for our rights, we are considered unreasonable. When we speak the truth about the history of the European invasion, we are often told to “go back where we came from.” Our roots are right here. They do not extend across any ocean.

 National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a Wampanoag man, Wamsutta Frank James, was asked to speak at a state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. He refused to speak false words in praise of the white man for bringing civilization to us poor heathens. Native people from throughout the Americas came to Plymouth, where they mourned their forebears who had been sold into slavery, burned alive, massacred, cheated, and mistreated since the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620.

 But the commemoration of National Day of Mourning goes far beyond the circumstances of 1970.

 Can we give thanks as we remember Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was framed up by the FBI and has been falsely imprisoned since 1976? Despite mountains of evidence exonerating Peltier and the proven misconduct of federal prosecutors and the FBI, Peltier has been denied a new trial. Bill Clinton apparently does not feel that particular pain and has refused to grant clemency to this innocent man.

 To Native people, the case of Peltier is one more ordeal in a litany of wrongdoings committed by the U.S. government against us. While the media in New England present images of the “Pequot miracle” in Connecticut, the vast majority of Native people continue to live in the most abysmal poverty.

 Can we give thanks for the fact that, on many reservations, unemployment rates surpass fifty percent? Our life expectancies are much lower, our infant mortality and teen suicide rates much higher, than those of white Americans. Racist stereotypes of Native people, such as those perpetuated by the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, and countless local and national sports teams, persist. Every single one of the more than 350 treaties that Native nations signed has been broken by the U.S. government. The bipartisan budget cuts have severely reduced educational opportunities for Native youth and the development of new housing on reservations, and have caused cause deadly cutbacks in health-care and other necessary services.

 Are we to give thanks for being treated as unwelcome in our own country?

OK, so what have you done to once again break open these wounds, to stick your foot smack dab in the middle of my heart and cause me to waste yet another evening trying to make you and your people understand how offensive you can be, perhaps with no intent, but nevertheless offensive?

Trail of tears. Do you know, do you have any idea what that term means? What it is? It’s not a metaphor or turn of phrase to us, Cindy. And it’s not a national park either: it is a historical event. A major one which resulted in the deaths of at least 4,000 Cherokee people. At least. What is more, it is symbolic of the brutal policies of Indian removal pursued by the American government in its quest for “living space” (Lebensraum). It was a murderous event, a murderous, murderous period in the history of this country that set the stage for the past hundred years of continued brutality. And the Cherokee Trail of Tears was but one of many. My entire family was lost in forced removal from our lands that my people call the “Anishinabe Trail of Tears.”

Now, I understand your grief, really, I do, Cindy. As I stated from the onset, I cannot imagine the loss of a son. Perhaps that is why I chose not to have one–because I lost my entire family–and in fact generations of my family to what some people might call “the American dream”. To me and to five generations of my family, this dream has been a nightmare–and all I’ve got to show for it is my very own broken treaty, a drawer full of death certificates and generations of memory (for that I am extremely grateful.

I’m sorry, but I read that “trail of tears” and I said to myself: How dare you? How dare you presume to put the loss of one son–even if it is the only one–one child, one life–on a par with the losses sustained not only by the Cherokee people, but by every nation of American Indians in this  country–some of whom have been wiped out entirely.

I have to assume that you know not what you do. That you are innocently oblivious to the degree of insult that is involved here. So I am attempting to tell you. This term “Trail of Tears” is not “up for grabs” as a generic metaphor for suffering. It isn’t. It is ours. And every time it is used, it should remind you–and each and every one of you–of the millions of people whose lives, lifeways, languages and lands were sacrificed so that you might ramble and roam `or these our canyons, our plains, our forests, our lakes, rivers and streams. You and your family have suffered a great loss, Cindy Sheehan, and I have indeed put my money, my time, my energy and my physical presence behind my enthusiastic support of your efforts–in recognition of that terrible loss. But we as American Indians have lost more than just one family member and the Trail of Tears–that tragic historical event–is seared in our hearts, minds and souls as a reminder of that loss. Your family’s tragedy is not a “trail of tears.” Tragic, yes. Heroic, in many ways. A terrible sacrifice, yes, but it is not a trail of tears because even if the term “trail of tears” were to be taken “metaphorically,” trails of tears involve generations of sacrifice, and not just of lives. Trails of tears involve the sacrifice of lifeways, of languages, and, above all, of lands.

You are on Indian land, Cindy Sheehan. You are on Indian land. All of you. You are on Indian land.

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