COMMENTARY: A caller to my radio talk show a few years ago said, “If you had not come to North America, the Native Americans would still be living free in a glorious land all by themselves. Shame on you for ruining it for them.”
My first thought was: I’m old, but I am not that old. I replied, “If Europeans had not come, Russia or another organized culture would have conquered these tribes.”
Those North America populations lacked a cohesive organization. Any time within a couple decades of Europeans landing the native populations could have suddenly and thoroughly wiped out all Europeans if they coordinated their efforts.
That way of life was doomed by the tribes not being organized. But what was done is done. All we can do four hundred years later is treat those indigenous descendants fairly and with cultural sensitivity.
Our country has been uniformly unreliable in dealing with the indigenous populations. Most 19th Century agreements were broken. Americans did not care. However, many of us do care now, but it is impossible to right those wrongs. I think of this each year, especially on Thanksgiving.
One thing totally American is the Thanksgiving holiday, which developed long after the pilgrims. Most of the heavy lifting to make this the holiday that it is goes to Abraham Lincoln. The final placement was tied to Franklin Roosevelt in World War Two.
It’s a holiday I’ve celebrated all my life. I am thankful that my ancestors did come to these lands. Two branches of my family came about the same time and were in the Revolutionary War. They were on opposite sides. But during my lifetime the two branches enjoyed Thanksgiving… my mother and father.
Our simplistic discussion of the “First Thanksgiving” has some aspects of truth, but not a general truth. Regardless, that was then and this is now. Many of us, myself especially, have so much to be thankful for that a holiday focused on being thankful is perfect.
We in the 21st Century are not the people of the past. In the last 200 years, this nation has dealt with most of the human rights issues that were a blight upon our nation. As such we have a president with an African heritage and we almost elected a woman president. We are a nation trying to be a better people.
We have stumbled a bit with the election since it seems to have brought out the worst in some people on both sides. I for one am very happy that it is over. Hopefully we can do some work before we must stop and have another election.
This is the American way. In my life thankfulness is a way of life. Much of what we have with prosperity and freedom was paid for by other Americans. Often we never know their names but we see the effect of them in our better lives.
One major task remains. In the coming years we must heal the final American wound, that of the indigenous people. While none of those people treated so badly are still alive, the Native Americans, as a whole, continue to not enjoy a prosperity equal to other minorities in our nation.
How to do so is something that I do not know. There is a need to have justice with the Native Americans in our country. We are troubled by the word sovereignty. Are they or not? I don’t know. We are wrong to think they should be thankful that our ancestors came and conquered their ancestors.
But should Native Americans celebrate thankfulness at this holiday named Thanksgiving? Absolutely, if they so desire to focus on the individual act of thankfulness. They can ignore the “First Thanksgiving” that is mostly made up. And those moments that destroyed their ancestor’s world. But we are alive now.
We all should celebrate thankfulness, not for history or politics but for the human emotion of hope and individual thankfulness.
I’m personally thankful for my loving family and friends. Also for the many years I have been allowed to write a weekly newspaper column. To all of you reading this I am grateful and wish you peace and happiness.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.