As we near Thanksgiving, one of the most important holidays in the US, I’ve been thinking about where I benefit from privilege. As a white person, I have benefited from colonialism and the oppression and genocide of Native Americans. (I benefit from other aspects of colonialism, but that’s something to explore later.)
I grew up in MoheganLake, in New York state, on land that once belonged to Mohegan/ Algonquin peoples (Native American nations). In the area around MoheganLake people digging the earth would sometimes find arrowheads - proof of the indigenous people who used to be there.
In my youth I learned about the genocide and forced removal of Native Americans. That history was part of our school curriculum. I took a course on Native American history and culture in college.
I went to a college in the town next to Amherst in the state of New York. Amherst is named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a British general who called for germ warfare against American Indians in the mid-18th century. When white people died of smallpox in that area, he encouraged the smallpox-infected blankets to be taken by soldiers and given to local Native Americans, who then died of smallpox.
I have benefited from the deaths and forced removal of Native Americans, particularly Algonquins. I benefited by being on that beautiful land. I benefited from the 'economic development' of that land -- farms, factories, schools, houses. Products I consumed, services I used, where I lived, where I was educated -- I received all these benefits.
As an Irish Catholic, I can also see how others benefited from the genocide of my people, just as I have benefited from the genocide of Native Americans in the US. I am sorry for what my people have done and been complicit in. I grieve for what others have lost or have never had. And I am
thankful for the life I have and the opportunity to deal with these feelings. I am figuring out what action to take, such as getting to know Native Americans and Native American history and culture. I also want to raise awareness among others of this less-known side of Thanksgiving.
I’ve been fortunate to have friends of many races, nationalities and social classes, but I’ve realized that for all the diversity in my life that I haven’t even had acquaintances who are Native Americans. And even though Algonquins/ Mohegans used to live on the land where I grew up, there were none in school with me as far as I knew. (Of course some may have hidden their ethnic identity.)
In the US, much of the mythology of Thanksgiving is about how Native Americans helped white settlers survive their first harsh winterby providing food and teaching themhow to find and grow it. We forget the subsequent acts of genocide and oppression of Native Americans by white settlers. Some Native Americansdon’t like the neglect of this dark but undeniable side of history during Thanksgiving. So this Thanksgiving I am reflecting on my relationship, as an individual and as a member of the white community, to Native Americans who have become 'minority peoples' in their homeland.