Catechism     No. 414  |  November 2013     Start     Study: Manifest Destiny     Pilgrim's Progress     Family Ties     Giving Thanks     Donate

“Nobody’s ever talked about the holocaust here [in America]. There were, conservatively speaking, nineteen million Indian people living in North America. Nineteen million. By 1970, there were 260, 000. Where did they go? What most people in this country fail to realize is the model for [the Jewish Holocaust] was the treatment of Native American people. [Hitler] said so, he wrote it down: the model for the [Nazi] concentration camps were the [Indian] prison camps here. Also, the whole notion of turning a people against themselves, keeping them busy within the prison camps, was also born here. Hitler thought it was a very good plan, and he admired [U.S. President] Andrew Jackson. Nineteen million. That’s not a holocaust?”

Phil Lucas (1942 – February 4, 2007) was an American filmmaker of mostly Native American themes. He acted, wrote, produced, directed or edited more than 100 films/documentaries or television programs starting as early as 1979 when he wrote/co-produced and co-directed Images of Indians for PBS - a five-part series exploring the problem of Indian stereotypes as portrayed and perpetuated by Hollywood Westerns.


As we work and plan and struggle and rush to prepare or travel or clean up or cook in anticipation of our annual family ritual, it is worthwhile to take a moment to ask ourselves why we’re doing it. For most of us, Thanksgiving is about family. It is our annual family reunion, for which we plan with stars in our eyes and which usually if not always transpires with mixed results. This is Thanksgiving, a family gathering many of us would rather skip but emotional blackmail forces us to attend. Thanksgiving carries no biblical mandate, though many Church Folk assume it does. It is not a religious holiday but an American custom invented by New York advertising firms, the so-called “Mad Men” of New York’s Madison Avenue. Thanksgiving, like Christmas (yes Christmas) was wholly invented by a phalanx of expert liars: hypnotic storytellers who can weave together shards of history into an invented “tradition” most of us assume dates back centuries. We have our own tradition for Thanksgiving that has absolutely nothing to do with Native Americans, the so-called “Indians” the child-friendly Pilgrim story teaches us. Most of us think nothing of Native Americans nor consider their plight through all the chaos and storm of our annual convocations, even though this holiday’s origins are based upon the exploitation and eventual genocide of these indigenous peoples. In my lifetime, I have not attended a Thanksgiving meal where Native Americans were even mentioned outside of a child’s storybook and our collective memory of the Thanksgiving story. But, given this nation’s shameful history of oppression, thievery, brutality and wholesale slaughter of these rightful owners of this land, omitting any reference to them as we gorge ourselves with meat and pass out in front of the flatscreen makes us just as guilty of their blood as the ignorant white Americans who sought to wipe them out.

Many Native Americans, today, live in the most shocking, abject poverty the world has ever seen. The unemployment rate among Native Americans routinely soars above an astonishing 70%. Alcoholism and drug abuse is rampant, as is gang-related crime, prostitution and human trafficking of Native American girls. America’s ability to separate that reality from its annual turkeyfest underscores an alarming and sad depravity on all our part. To be aware of suffering on so great a scale and not have empathy for these people makes us all idiots. Church Folk I’ve discussed this with just kind of roll their eyes and wave me off, “What’s that got to do with me?” Well, nothing. And everything. Because, if we really were Christians, instead of ignorant Church Folk, our Christian conviction would encourage us to stop being robots. I am routinely looked upon as odd because I rail against these phony holidays—most of them invented by chain-smoking white guys on Madison Avenue to sell you stuff. Most people I know, white or black, never question, never ask themselves, “Why am I doing this?” It’s October, time to buy a bunch of pumpkins and make Jack O'Lanterns. It’s December, time to put up the tree. Why? What does any of that have to do with God or, for that matter, with us as a people?

Pocahontas Was A Slave: Early settlers routinely brutalized and murdered Native Americans,
including rape of women and girls. Click to view an amazing documentary


It’s possible to be an ignorant Christian. It is possible, I suppose, to be a stupid Christian. But, real Christianity demands sacrifice. Being an actual Christian *inspires* sacrifice. For us, sacrifice should not be a miserable chore. We’re excited to do make that sacrifice, excited to see God move, as a result, in the lives of others.

As I understand it, there is a federal budget set aside for the Indian Nations residing on what is allegedly their own sovereign lands. Of course, these lands are the most worthless, useless, dead tracts of property the white man (not being racist, but let’s face it: we had nothing to do with this) could find. Native Americans are entitled, by U.S. treaty, to own and reside on these lands and a budget is allocated to help sustain them, paying for health care and other services. The budget is a ridiculous snowflake of the blizzard of trillions of dollars lands seized from Native Americans are actually worth. And, with unemployment routinely hovering around a shocking 70%, even routine maintenance of aging, ramshackle houses and bare-minimum health care is often beyond the capacity of those funds budgeted.

Suicide, depression, drug abuse and alcoholism are rampant on many Native American reservations. There is likely not a weekend that passes where someone does not get drunk and get into a fight or have an accident, requiring an ambulance to rush him to the nearest health center. If the injury is serious enough, the health center will authorize transport to the nearest hospital—off of Indian lands. The costs for even one of these events can spiral upward of $4000. That’s one drunk Indian, one weekend. Drug and alcohol-related emergency care is common, and those costs—millions of dollars—are drained from the already miniscule budget allocation for the tribal nations. There wasn’t enough money in the first place to fix a roof or provide a balanced, healthy diet; depression and substance abuse disproportionately drain what little resources the nations have. These people are freezing. These people are hungry.

This has never been discussed at any Thanksgiving table I’ve ever sat at. I can’t help but wonder what good might be done if, instead of running out and buying all that food, “American” families collected the money they might have spent—the billions we spend, every year on travel and feasting and house prep, or even the enormous sums we spend giving Thanksgiving dinners to our own poor—and put all of those dollars into a fund for impoverished Native American families. What if Thanksgiving meant a day of consecration, turning our own plates down as we extend ourselves to this land's rightful owners? If we fixed a roof or extended power lines to the many homes without power or running water? Since we’re obviously not willing to do that, what if we at least acknowledged the Native American role in the evolution of our society? What if we, at least, prayed for them, lobbied for them through our elected representatives?

Or, if nothing else, what if we at least thought about them every once in a while?

Happy Thanksgiving: While we wolf down dinner and rush out to Walmart for that bargain flatscreen:
Pine Ridge Reservation home, Dakota Sioux

The Real Thanksgiving

The best thing about Thanksgiving used to be that we were stuck with each other. Everything was closed, even the movies. You had no other choice but to spend the day with your annoy8ing cousins and that aunt who nags you about everything. There were board games and football and reruns of I Love Lucy. We hated it. When nothing else worked, we’d just break out and walk, the young people, just wandering the hood connecting to other bored young people who had nothing else to do on Thanksgiving.

Today, we wolf down supper fast as we can and rush down to Walmart to get in line for that bargain flatscreen. We didn’t care about the Indians then, we sure don’t care about them now.

Whether we believe we owe Native Americans or not, I believe the least we could do is be Christian enough to stop exploiting them, even by proxy. Thanksgiving, as we practice it, has us giving thanks to God while ignoring the exploitation and genocide of millions. It is inconceivable how we bow our heads in solemnity while ignoring what this day actually represents. I’m not saying don’t have your annual family gathering. Nobody’s telling you not to cook all night and watch football all day in between the bickering and squabbling. What I’m saying is, stop being a robot. Stop doing things because you’ve always done things. Ask questions. Educate yourself. Make a sacrifice.

Have your Thanksgiving dinner on Friday. It’s not a sin. People may roll their eyes at you, but Friday is an easy, simple gesture in recognition of the brutality and disenfranchisement of the Native American people. Make a stand.    CONTINUED

Christopher J. Priest
17 November 2012