Thursday, November 25, 2010
Thanksgiving as it is currently portrayed by mainstream media and in the majority of academic settings is laden with myths, misinformation, and falsehoods. Driven by the need for a "feel good" history, society continues to ignore the painful fact that the Native American genocide is quite possibly the most denied of holocausts. This denial serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and fails to provide our children an honest education. An unknown history is a history destined to repeat itself. As such, it is imperative to learn the historical truth and pass this truth down to our children who are the next generation of leaders - leaders who determine which course this country will take with regards to the social and political relationship with Native American people.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the reference to Indians in the past tense, as if there are no longer any living Native peoples. My other huge pet peeve (which almost yearly lands me in the principle's office) is sending my son home with a pilgrim hat or feather in his head.
Why teach the truth about Thanksgiving?
- To debunk stereotypes and historical myths.
- To move away from a monocultural paradigm to a multicultural one.
- Thanksgiving is a much bigger concept than the feast at the Plymouth Plantation.
- When lesson plans are built upon partial and biased information, we are not teaching the truth.
Myth: The pilgrims came to American to escape religious persecution (partial truth). Why is this a problem? Because it sets the stage for perpetuating the stereotype of Noble Civilization vs Savagery (Berkhofer, 1978, Jennings, 1976).
Fact: Pilgrims were a subsect of the Puritans, political revolutionaries who intended to overthrow the British government, and did so in 1649. Many were fugitives, as well as victims of bigotry (Larsen, 1981).
Myth: Thanksgiving Day represents a day when the pilgrims and the Indians sat down and shared a feast with each other in peace and harmony to celebrate the fall harvest. This event was the first Thanksgiving.
Fact: In 1970, the Wampanoag secured a copy of a Thanksgiving proclamation made by the governor of the colony. After a militia returned from murdering the men, women, and children of an Indian village, the governor proclaimed a holiday and feast to give thanks for the massacre. Other colonies were encouraged to do the same every autumn when the crops were in; in other words, at each fall harvest, go kill Indians and celebrate your murders with a feast.
The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:
The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.
Myth: The pilgrims invited the Indians to the feast to show their gratitude for the help they had received.
Fact: The purpose of the feast was to negotiate a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the pilgrims.
Myth: Squanto was captured by a British slaver who raided the village.
Fact: Squanto was kidnapped by Captain Thomas Hunt, an associate that Captain John Smith had left behind to continue trading with the Indians after their mapping expedition in 1614. Captain Hunt betrayed John Smith, and kidnapped 27 (or 24 to some sources) Indians who had been lured aboard his ship to trade beaver skins(Captain John Smith, 1624).
Myth: The first Thanksgiving was the feast at Plymouth Plantation.
Fact: The first Thanksgiving was approximately 30,000 years ago according to the most recent archeological data. By the New Stone Age (about 10,000+ years ago), Thanksgiving had become associated with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land. Many indigenous people have feasts of gratitude multiple times throughout the year and for a variety of reasons. Thanksgiving has always been a time of people coming together and giving thanks for that fellowship has become part of the celebration for many. In short, there are many Thanksgiving stories to tell. Why limit ourselves to one myth?
How did the current myth of Thanksgiving come to be?
It is the product of the melting pot era of the 1890s and early 1900s when our country was attempting to develop a national identity. Public education was a major tool for social unity, and to many writers and educators this meant a common national history. History was written to reflect this goal. As a consequence, Thanksgiving became a national holiday (1898), replete with stereotyped Indians and stereotyped Whites, incomplete history, and an inspirational myth.
So, what can we learn when we teach a balanced and informed Thanksgiving?
- There are cultural differences between Indian tribes. Not all Indians look the same or live the same way.
- We can learn about the political structure of Indian tribes and the importance of women in government.
- We can broaden our concept of Indian leadership. For example, the Wampanoag did not have chiefs; rather, they had sachems and tribal councils.
- We can learn how the Constitution of the United States and articles of Confederation came to be. We can learn what the Constitution of the United States and Articles of Confederation are, for that matter.
- We can learn the importance of conservation by taking care of the land (Mother Earth).
- We can learn about respect, honesty, and integrity in our interactions with others and in how we conduct ourselves.
- We can learn about how the seasons are celebrated in different cultures.
- We can learn the importance of the family dinner table.
- We can learn empathy and compassion for others.
- We can learn about agriculture.
- We can learn about the different dwellings various Indian tribes used and continue to use, as well as the dwellings of people in cultures all over the world.
REMEMBER: The antidote to a feel-good history is not a feel-bad history, but an honest and inclusive one (Loewen, 1998).
ReferencesBerkhofer, Jr., R. F., (1978). The White Man's Indian, Vintage Books, Random House, New York
Jennings, F., (1976). The Invasion of America, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
Larsen, C, M., (1981). The Real Thanksgiving, Tacoma, Washington:Tacoma Public Schools
The Council on Interracial Books for Children, (1971). Chronicles of American Indian Protest, Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Pub. Inc.,
Photos copyright Denise Alvarado, all rights reserved worldwide.
Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.
Copyright 2010-2013 Denise Alvarado, All rights reserved worldwide. Please ask if you would like to repost this article.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Every now and again, I am asked about why various practitioners use "nicknames" as their main identity. In many traditions this is the norm. Spiritual mothers of New Orleans are all Mama something's or Reverend Mothers, and who knows how many drs there are in the world of hoodoo. I have been referred to as Mama D, Priestess Denise, Voodoo Mama, and reverend sista docta healer medicine woman by any number of people. I use to use Voodoo Mama much more than I do now, but as I have become much more in the public eye and have a serious academic reputation to maintain, I have transitioned over to my real name as my primary identity. I happen to be of the school of thought that transparency is a good thing because it gives my clients more confidence in me as a practitioner. Even when I used Voodoo Mama more than I do now, I have always been open about who I am and where I am from. Just check any of my websites and click on the About Me page and you will learn a lot about who I am, my background, and where I am from. If anyone wants to know who I am, just look...it's really no secret.
I can't say this is the case with everyone. For some reason, there are those who insist on using a first name or some given name and do not reveal anywhere on their sites their real names or anything much about them at all. Maybe that works for them, I don't know. Personally, I would feel much more confident in having someone perform a service for me if I knew who they were, what their experience was, and where they are from. I mean, I wouldn't go to a dentist named Dr. Bob with no reference to his training or expertise anymore than I would go to a spiritual worker named Dr. Bob who gives no reference to how he obtained his expertise or background. But that's just me...
And for the haters out there, Dr. Bob is a fictitional name with no reference intended towards any real person.
I think this is one thing that is addressed with Cat Yronwode's Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers (AIRR). For people who need such validation and have no other background or qualifications, this can be a good thing. I suppose even those who have a background could benefit as well. That is what credentials are for, to demonstrate a level of mastery over your particular area or areas. Credentialing gives you credibility because it is bestowed upon you by a group of peers who are already established in your area. But it is only one way in which a reputation of reliability is built or demonstrated. There are many more ways, such as time in the field, life experience, and related professional credentials along with complete transparency.
Now I am not a member of AIRR, nor do I intend to become a member. My life is a whole package of credentials that make me an expert at what I do. Credentialing is a tricky thing when it comes to indigenous healing systems, however. The requirements for holding specific titles are not uniform across cultures. What makes me an expert in my area does not make me an expert in your area, especially given regional and cultural differences. But the fact that my experience lies in a different, but related tradition does not make me any less reliable or competent than you (and I am speaking figuratively here).
But this brings me to an issue that just irritates the hell out of me. Why is it that people who have no idea of my experience or credibility are so quick to attack and squash? What is it with these people? And you know who you are...
Look, if you are going to criticize me and my work, then do so with intelligence. Read my work, learn about my background, dispute what you see with the facts and not with some side of the mouth, grade school playground bullshit. I welcome open discourse on any topic in which I have written...or not. I think intelligent discussion is productive and constructive. It keeps you and I in check and it keeps us accountable to each other and at our best. Nothing wrong with that.
As an academic with advanced degrees, I am used to having to back up every statement with proof. That is the culture of the academic world. If I say something about Native American healing for example, I better be able to back it up with facts or a damned good theory based on related literature and research. My name depends on this. I have taken this training and used it in my life as an indigenous healer, author, and rootworker. The training I have endured on an academic level makes the malicious gossip on forums a joke. But jokes can be hurtful.
My academic training is an afterward, though, to my spiritual training. I wasn't born an academic...I became one. I wasn't born in a university. I was however, born and raised in the unique, Voodoo and hoodoo rich culture that is New Orleans. I am a Creole woman and proud of it. And at the risk of sounding racist and absolutely not being racist, no white person half my age can tell me what I am and what I do is not legitimate. My earliest lesson that I can remember being an actual lesson was by a spiritualist aunt on the bayous of Mississippi when I was around five years old. I was instructed in the art of candle magick and communicating with Spirits. That's when my spiritual training started...at least, that's when I remember it starting. My whole childhood I was taught about plants, minerals and animals, what is referred to as herbalism and animal and mineral curios in today's hoodoo lingo. Back then, and I'll date myself, back in the 60s, we didn't call what we lived hoodoo. It was just life. It was fixing this and doing that or making a mess of somethin'...you get the picture.
And I'll share something else for those of you who feel the need to denigrate my name and for those of you who may just be interested in the juicy details. Do you know what it is like to grow up in the Deep South as a person of color? Nevermind the fact that I was a Voodooist (and in New Orleans, this includes hoodoo for many people, including myself). Do you know what it is like to have to shove your spirituality away underground just so you can maintain a measure of safety? But still, not be safe anyway? Do you know what it is like to pass as white when you can just to be accepted and not part of a "nigger hunt"? Yes, I said it...I said it because it is the sad ass truth. I can tell you that I know what it is like to be shown an oozie in the backseat of someone's car, ready to be used on such hunts, and praying to the Spirits that be that I would not be found out for who I am. Because many of my friends were white, and because I am creole, I was more accepted than my darker brothers and sisters. People focused on my Indian and Spanish heritage more than anything else. But these experiences affected me in a deep and profound way, and for a long time it affected me in a bad way because I internalized it, felt guilty, and punished myself for the sins of another.
At this point, if you are still reading, you may be wondering what does this have to do with hoodoo or Voodoo? Well, I am here to tell you that it has everything to do with it. Because hoodoo is not just a "magickal system" as it has been reduced to in contemporary writings. Hoodoo is part of the history of Louisiana, and I am part of that history, along with anyone else who was born and raised in the culture as I was.
Indigenous religions have for ever and a day been demonized by the predominantly White Christian majority. My ancestors were oppressed in the least and murdered at the worst for being who they were. The religions of my ancestors were made illegal and many were imprisoned. Children were stolen from families with the express intention by the government to break down the family systems and destroy culture. This was very effective. Hoodoo, that is, the use of herbs, roots, bones, natural elements and their spiritual qualities was not separate from Voodoo. According to Dahomean cosmology, the knowledge of how to utilize the sacred herbs, roots, bones, and other natural elements for controlling and changing one’s destiny was given to the people from Legba, who received the knowledge from the Forest Spirits. Hoodoo, in its form today, is a direct result of colonial government policies, church dogma, and slavery, and ongoing persecution of those who openly practiced the Voodoo religion.
And so I ask this question of my criticizers, is this part of your history? If so, what are you taking it out on me for? If not, what are you taking it out on me for?
See, the thing is that just because I was born a Creole doesn't mean I am immune to criticizing other people for what they do. There were times in my life that I am not proud of that I exhibited the behaviors of my oppressors too. I used words and actions to hurt other people, both on a magickal and a not so magickal level (its called lateral oppression in psychology). And then I was enlightened by a few good people who understood the soul wound that I was experiencing. The soul wound is the effect of intergenerational trauma on the psyche of the colonized. Yeah, it is somehow metaphysically technical and you will either get it or you won't. Either way, its okay. We all come to understanding in our own time and I am am certainly not one to judge another for their degree of enlightenment.
What this all boils down to with regards to name bashing on seemingly meaningless forums is tolerance and respect for self and others. You can either continue to be intolerant and disrespectful of someone you don't know and have never spoken to (but if you have read this lengthy post of mine you know me a little better), or you can quit being a cowardly gossiper and address me directly, like any self-respecting person and professional practitioner in any field should do. After all, if we are rootworkers in it for healing and light, then why not act like it.
Now, dispute THAT.