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By Mark Anthony Rolo
This Thanksgiving, don’t call on me, as an American Indian, to offer up a prayer of thanks.
I sure wouldn’t want to offend anyone with a prayer that dredges up key events of the dark past such as the forced, deadly removal of Cherokee Indians from their eastern homelands back in 1830. From the Carolinas to Oklahoma, 15,000 Cherokee were ordered to march through snow, ice and mountains. At least, 4,000 of them died of starvation or exposure.
A prayer of thanks would be challenging should I reflect on the U.S. cavalry’s longstanding war with many Plains tribes in an effort to steal the West. The Indian Wars revealed the height of this nation’s inhumanity. In 1890, a sneak attack by the 7th Cavalry on a Lakota camp near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota left more than 150 men, women and children massacred.
Nor could I offer thanks for the policy of the federal government, starting in the 1890s, of taking American Indian children from their tribal homes and placing them in boarding schools in an effort to “kill the Indian, but save the man.” Indian children lost their culture, languages and their families. Thousands of boarding school Indian children who died of disease were never returned home. Their bodies are buried in boarding school cemeteries scattered throughout this country.
I suppose I could try and put a positive spin on my prayer by mentioning all of the benefits of Indian gaming. But that would be very misleading, considering that of the more than 500 Indian nations only a handful of tribes have been able to overcome most of the desperate ills of poverty. The rest of Indian Country still struggles with astronomical unemployment rates, the highest suicide rates in the country and rampant alcoholism.
Now, I could offer up a more politically correct prayer of thanks and remind my dinner party folks about a time when all was good between whites and Indians. I could trip back to Plymouth Rock, birthplace of the first Thanksgiving. I could fondly recall how the newly arrived pilgrims honored the Indians with a feast — thanks for getting them through a harsh winter of disease and death.
But that would be one short prayer, since the goodwill between whites and Indians lasted about as long as a cold turkey sandwich.
Mark Anthony Rolo is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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