In the Fall We Talk about Indians

Friday November 9, 2012

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker

The changing of the seasons brings with it a certain change in mood. In America, the golden hues of fall signal the oncoming holidays, beginning with Halloween images of scary jack-o-lantern pumpkins (and if you're really paying attention, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead celebrations), morphing into the pumpkin pies and turkeys of Thanksgiving. As green gives way to shades of crimson, buttercup, and earth, nature signals her change by diverting her energy inward, and so do we, at least to some degree, turn our attention contemplatively inward.

American national holidays from Columbus Day to Thanksgiving inevitably invoke conversations about Native Americans. Columbus Day really didn't see much conversation about Indians until the days of the American Indian rights movement in the late 1960's and early 1970's, with actions like the first Day of Mourning at Plymoth Rock. Since then, Indian protesting has gained momentum and now Columbus Day cannot go by without some kind of attention paid to those protests; Indians protest Columbus Day parades, they plaster facebook with sarcastic but poignant Columbus Day e-cards, and the Native media seizes the opportunity to tell another side to history. And not just in America; all throughout North, Central and South America and the Caribbean Natives condemn the man and the myth of "discovery."

On Halloween the conversation turns to the Indian costumes Native people find so offensive, and non-Native Americans will once again say to America's indigenous peoples, "you are way too sensitive...get over yourselves!" A similar dynamic takes place with Thanksgiving. Native Americans--sick and tired of the self-gratifying story of friendly Indians sitting around a big table eating turkey with benevolent Pilgrims--tell a different, not-so-cute version of the story. And since 1992 November is Native American Heritage Month, in which the nation grants us carte blanche to tell our stories, like how slavery and disease were the real forces that aided European immigrants to colonize the continent.

Just when the conversation starts getting really juicy, it's December and the national conversation will turn to America's favorite subject: shopping. Santa Claus and capitalism saves us from the drudgery of truth telling in the end, and we won't have to talk about Indians again until next year.


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