Tomorrow brings a very angsty American holiday: Thanksgiving.

You Cannot Give Thanks for What Is Stolen:

What can Thanksgiving mean for Indigenous people, except to serve as a reminder of all that has been taken? Land. Children. Language. Story. What turns this taking into giving, which is to say, what can thanks possibly have to do with what has only ever been stolen? 

Perhaps the shift from “taking” to “giving” has happened with such insistence in the American psyche so as to have accrued that warm feeling of common sense. Is it not common sense to say that Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday?

Once a year, publications across the country give space for Natives to air their grievances during the unholy trifecta of annoying holidays for Indians — Columbus Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Every article recounts the atrocities which America committed towards the Indigenous people of the land and connects it to some current work the American government is engaged in to assimilate and vanish Natives from our history and rights as sovereign nations in the country. This year, we can say that America has always tried to extinguish Indians through force and that the current attempt to disrupt the Indian Child Welfare Act through the Supreme Court is just another step in the long process of assimilation. Yet through it all, we can still proclaim, “I will survive.”

I’m not against these types of articles, per se, but I do grow bored with them as they say the same things repeatedly. The predictable nature of these articles has also driven away any realistic attempt at challenging people’s understanding of the holiday. For many Americans, the history of Thanksgiving bears little relation to the modern-day celebration. No one really cares to hear about the atrocities that happened to Natives from America. Similarly, no one really cares about the fairy tale of positive Indian and White relations in the 1600s. Native writers instead compete with one another to see who can make the most white progressives feel guilty for the sins of their fathers.

The article quoted above goes turn on further to explain that the foundation of the holiday was formed in 1637 by John Winthrop, who called for a thanksgiving feast after a massacre of 700 Pequot men, women, and children. I don’t doubt that the Pequot massacre happened. Still, I doubt this moment is the beginning of the holiday, which the article notes was federally established as a holiday in 1863 and proclaimed by President Lincoln, who had his own nefarious interactions with Indigenous people.

William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, established a time of thanksgiving among his colonists in 1623, three years after their landing on the shores of America and more than a decade before the Pequot massacre. It is in Bradford’s account where we also get the fabled Indian feast:

“King Massasoit, with some ninety men, we entertained and feasted with for three days. They went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want.”

So while it is convenient for us to attribute such a vilified holiday as Thanksgiving to an Indigenous massacre, it appears to be a false correlation meant to drive emotional anger.

At its core, Thanksgiving is a religious holiday with little to do with Natives. William Bradford was calling his colony together to give thanks to the Lord for providing crops for them and protecting them from the “ravages of the savages.” Little care was truly given for Natives, even if the Plymouth Colony engaged in a political truce of sorts at the table with the Wampanoag. We should all wish that was a true event, even if things didn’t quite work out for the Wampanoag and the rest of us Indians afterward. Over the years, the religious nature of the holiday was replaced with a tale of international relations among the “first Americans” on both sides of the coin. And, as the years progressed even further, the Indian story of Thanksgiving has given way to complaining about having to attend a large meal with family we despise. Or, in more hopeful terms, a welcome reunion of family and a break from work for most of us.

Our current version of Thanksgiving has little resemblance to its original religious purpose or its secondary tale, thankfully enough. And as such, it is a holiday worthy of celebrating. My family has celebrated this modern version of Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember, both on and off the Fort Berthold reservation. We don’t spend the day grousing about the atrocities that have happened to American Indians, which are real, or partake in performative actions to prove our hatred for the holiday and America itself. Rather, we spend time as a family and eat til beyond full and celebrate—or avoid—one another, you know, like typical Americans.

Thanksgiving can represent something more than what it has in the past. The ideals of the holiday can still be celebrated even if you’re Indian. No, Thanksgiving and America aren’t perfect. Many American Indian activists struggle to make the Native voice heard and a valuable part of the American discourse. Similarly, as the Declaration of Independence made a huge claim of equality that wasn’t provided at the time and is still being fought for today, we can celebrate the changes that have occurred in the years-long battles that fought to make America live up to its stated ideals. The same can be said for Thanksgiving.

In the great exodus from Twitter, an app that I used sporadically and imperfectly, I’ve been interested more in owning the space where I post anything social media like instead of playing a part in feeding into a system that feeds off of advertisements, algorithms, and rage. Twitter is an incredibly toxic environment that many don’t want to give up, me included. I still peruse the algorithm, albeit less than I used to, but I’ve erased everything else except the profile itself.

Mastodon was a welcome reprieve for a while, allowing me to post and interact with others who were interested in the particular niche of the server I joined. Yet even there I felt out of place as the majority of posts that were written and shared seemed to be parroting various well meaning but still gate-keeping scolding about how one was to act with their posts, with many threatening to mute, to block, to unfollow, to defederate, and not boost or engage with those who don’t follow the rules. I have never lived in a neighborhood with an HOA (Home Owners Association), but everything I’ve read and heard about them resemble the same type of tyrannical behavior I was seeing on Mastodon, all hidden behind a list of rules and proper behavior that bear consequences if not followed.

Content warnings (CW) are an essential rule on Mastodon, especially when it comes to sharing about political issues. I wrote a post there about the current ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) hearings in the Supreme Court and how arguing to remove ICWA is an attempt to further violate Native Nations’ sovereignty and the well-being of Indian children by assimilating Indigenous peoples in America’s ongoing effort to devalue and erase Indigenous peoples in America. I placed that post behind a CW but it felt weird doing so, like an extension of the issue that removing ICWA represents. I like the philosophy behind the fediverse that I’ve been learning more about lately, but the practical expression has been prohibitive.

With no clear public forum presenting itself in the wake of Twitter’s chaos, my thoughts have been to return to blogs (remember them?) as my means of expression online. I wanted something similar to Twitter but most like a blog, and I could care less that what I post isn’t promoted by an algorithm to get the maximum eyes on my thoughts. Ultimately, we want people to engage with us if we post something online. But social media has made that unhealthy for many of us. We pine for the notifications after we post something. We want people to see what we post and to engage with us. We want people to be mad at what we’re mad at, to feel what we are feeling. This is where Twitter excelled. We want an echo chamber more than critical engagement. Mastodon is a prime example of that.

I’ve moved away from most online people farms in the past few years. I don’t have much to do with Google anymore (YouTube is my only connection there), and I haven’t posted much on Twitter or Facebook lately. I am firmly embedded in Apple’s ecosystem, though recently I’ve been trying to get out of that too in small ways to begin with. And my life’s felt better. I’ve noticed a marked difference having removed myself from the various machines of online life. But I have still felt a need for expression. To put thoughts out there and to engage with others. To write and see if anything connects with another person. To engage in the human condition and find other sojourners that are trying to live well.

So I’ve never felt full freedom from everything online, which explains why I still attempt to join new social media sites and post things online in each ecosystem, trying to find something that works for me and never finding a home in any of them. Which leads me to forgoeing trying to sign up to another social media website that is free but monetizes the user in favor of taking ownership of my online presence. Many on Twitter lamented the fact that years of posts and engagement would be lost when it crumbles, putting a lot more importance on their tweets than really exists. However, that wouldn’t be a problem if people owned their own online expressions instead of relying on a company beholden to advertisers to do so.

I doubt this will be the last thing I sign up for, but who knows. I’m going to make a go of it here and see what happens. I’m not too interested in the social atmosphere anyway. But I do want to write.

Why Do Chinese People See Christianity as a Cultural Invasion?:

In addition to the sentiment against imperialism, there is conflict between Christian belief and traditional Chinese culture. The gospel along with the beliefs it represents are entirely foreign to the cultural Chinese worldview, and consequently some have considered the spread of Christianity as a kind of cultural invasion.

Chinese Christian scholar Xie Fuya, who spent most of his life analyzing the relationship between Christianity and Chinese culture, believes the reason for the many misunderstandings and conflicts between the two is that Christianity has not yet comprehended Chinese culture. Consequently, Chinese culture does not fully fathom the essence of the faith, while Christianity has not been able to impress and influence the Chinese culture.

The answer to the article’s question is that Christianity IS a cultural invasion of every culture in the world. Some of that is by design. To follow Christ means we give up that which contradicts a life wholly devoted to him. However, many Christian missionaries bring extra cultural baggage with them that disguises itself as “proper” Christian theology and life.

Imperialism is one such agent, as well as capitalism, of this wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing that has caused harm to many groups worldwide hearing the gospel and experiencing anything but the gospel. Progressive Christianity can throw in communism and Karl Marx as their harmful doppelgangers. To assign any of the world’s systems of power to Christianity is to impose a superfluous requirement on Christians that is unbiblical. Some systems can resemble Christianity in ways but never be Christian. Trump, Desantis, and every Christian Nationalist belie their stated Christianity by seeking to impose religion on the government and vice versa.

The church carries cultural baggage everywhere it goes and imposes that baggage on others, creating a “for us” or “against us” framework of thinking. This is why the church has largely failed the LGBTQ+ community. If they won’t look and act like us then they are not one of us. Yet the reality is that Christ wants them to resemble him. Gospel truth gets distorted and spread thin until it expresses little to no grace, which is a failure of a gospel supposedly built on grace. Typically, the gospel expressed by many Christians is one that looks and acts like their particular sect. They never realize that many of our cultural standards have no bearing on an individual’s salvation.

The Chinese view of Christianity resembles the view that many Natives have towards Christianity, a westernized imperial force intent on making disciples not of Christ but of themselves. That is the failure of westernized Christianity and its missionaries.

Native child welfare law faces major Supreme Court challenge:

Before the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted, between 25% and 35% of Native American children were being taken from their homes and placed with adoptive families, in foster care or in institutions. Most were placed with white families or in boarding schools in attempts to assimilate them.

“They would just swoop in and take our kids,” said Michelle Beaudin, a council member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe in Wisconsin. “And they didn’t know their culture, they were just brought into another world. There was no justification for them to come into our communities.”

This week, the Supreme Court will take up arguments to remove the protections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), another step in the continual debasement of tribal sovereignty and rights ascribed by treaties between the US and Native Nations.

ICWA was established relatively late in 1978 to stop the removal of Native children from their families, tribes, and culture, a practice that had been in place from the early days of colonization (i.e. boarding schools).

As boarding schools for Indians ceased to be practical and often deadly, many Native children continued to be taken from their families for dubious reasons and placed with white families as a result. Indians were not seen as capable of caring for their children.

This prejudice led to kids being taken from their families by the state and removed wholly from their communities (tribes), an extra step that revealed the state’s general racism and condescension towards Indians. Often, these kids had no connection with their tribes afterward.

In a typical foster situation (my wife and I have fostered 12 kids), children are taken from their families, and the state tries to find extended family members to house them. If none are available or willing, the kids are placed in a foster home with any willing family.

ICWA adds another caveat. If there is no extended family available or willing to take in Native kids, the state must search for members from the same tribe, or any tribe, to house them and then place the children with a family outside the tribe if none within are available.

This caveat also applies to adoption. When a family wants to adopt a Native child, the kid’s tribe can stop that adoption and try to find a family from the same tribe or another tribe to adopt the child. If none are found, then any family can adopt. This is the crux of the issue.

Of the three couples that are represented in this fight against ICWA, two have succeeded in adopting Native children. The main claims are that the law is unconstitutional as it is race-based discrimination and that states should have oversight instead of the federal government.

What is ignored in these claims is the understanding of tribal sovereignty, that each tribe as distinct nations recognized as such from the founding of this country are afforded those rights as separate entities from the state or feds, albeit through fuzzy and eroded precedent.

As distinct nations with sovereignty, tribal rights should include the necessary preclusions to attempt to keep their children within the same nation or broader Native Nations, not based on race but on nationhood.

For Natives, our notions of family extend beyond the western understanding of a nuclear family. My aunties are my mothers. My great-aunts are my grandmas. My first cousins are my brothers and sisters. Hell, pretty much everyone in my nation is my cousin until proven otherwise.

This fight over ICWA consists of two different understandings. Even though a Native kid’s extended family may not be available, that kid’s tribe is still considered family. As a result, every method should be taken to keep that kid in the same family.

Yes, it makes adoption even more difficult than it already is for non-Natives, but it does so for the child’s benefit. And often, non-Natives can adopt their Native foster children anyway once all other avenues are exhausted.

ICWA shouldn’t be overturned because it protects Native kids and the sovereignty of tribal nations. It isn’t perfect, but it was enacted to combat a real problem. And it more effectively honors the NDN understanding of family than an American one. Yet, it is under real threat.

Defending ICWA: The next fight over tribal sovereignty:

Just as they did throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, conservative groups and Christian organizations are funneling huge sums of money to dismantle ICWA in the 21st century, striking at the very heart of tribal sovereignty: the right to raise and educate each nation’s children and determine futures without colonial interference on the lands to which they belong and control.

Meet the Christian Rap Duo from ‘Reservation Dogs’:

As artists, you foreground your faith and your Native American identity. How did you come to fully embrace both of those parts of yourselves in your work?

Funny Bone: We’ve been in the faith for a long time, and we’ve felt the Creator Spirit personally. And it is powerful. That’s kind of what helps ground me, just knowing personally, feeling that touch from God. Whenever it’s looking bleak, whenever we going through struggles, not gonna worry about it, ’cause I know Creator has it. I know God’s got this. We have a song called “Ain’t Worried ’Bout It.”

A lot of people definitely need encouragement like that, especially in the indigenous community. They have the highest rates of suicide, depression. I got really close at one point. I’m not ashamed to say it. The Enemy was just attacking me. And the only thing that really kept me going was knowing that God has to have something better for me.

I met these guys 15-20 years ago at an after-party during the Gathering of the Nations here in Albuquerque. I annoyed one of them, don’t know which, because I wouldn’t buy their CD. He had a discman in his hands with those cheap foam headphones, and he made me listen to a couple of their songs. I bought a Redcloud album instead. He had to make the sale because he was managing the merch table for the musical acts at the party.

It wasn’t a Christian event, and I never knew they were Christians until I read this article today. At the time, I was a big fan of Redcloud, who was a Christian and Native, a combination that I was encountering at the same time. I wanted to be both, but there were several areas where the two didn’t seem to mesh. I’m more comfortable with myself today, still a Christian and an NDN, but Redcloud helped me have confidence in myself then.

This part of the interview resonated with me:

In the hip-hop and indigenous spaces you occupy, is Christian sometimes an uncomfortable label for the two of you?

Funny Bone: Very. I don’t wanna say that we get ashamed to call ourselves Christian, but amongst the indigenous community, there’s a bit of that. The colonizers stole a lot, including religion. So we try to tell the natives—just because that’s what colonizers are doing doesn’t mean that’s what Jesus stands for. They are manipulating the Word of God to get over on people.

Not everyone has good intentions. Some people are just wicked. If your Christianity allows you to hate somebody, then you’re doing it wrong. God is love.

Lil Mike: We’re just trying to stay grounded with our connection to Creator.

Funny Bone: God is love. Anything else is not of God.