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What can LGBTIs and Native Americans be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

What can LGBTIs and Native Americans be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway production of Hamilton.

I will wake up this Thanksgiving morning hoping to find a portal to 7 November, the day before the election.

I will pause to acknowledge the autumnal harvest time’s spiritual significance, recognize this time of connectedness and all I have to be thankful for.

But I’m also at the intersections of multiple identities – gender, race, sexual orientation, class, to name a few. So I will find this Thanksgiving a challenging one.

I never thought a 2016 presidential election would have me time-travel back to the 1950s and 1960s, then maroon me there for the next four years.

This Thanksgiving might not feel like a cause to celebrate. But I realize for many of my Native American brothers and sisters this holiday has felt this way for centuries, irrespective who was elected as president.

Historically, since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coles Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on this US holiday.

And for the Wampanoag nation of New England, whose name means ‘people of the dawn,’ this national holiday is a reminder of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. It’s a symbol of persecution and genocide of their ancestral nation and culture and their long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

However, the Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland, were right in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their actual practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil rights of Native Americans.

Native Americans weren’t homophobic

Case in point: homophobia is not indigenous to Native American culture. Rather, it is one of the many devastating effects of colonization and Christian missionaries.

Traditionally, Two-Spirits symbolized Native Americans’ acceptance and celebration of diverse gender expressions and sexual identities.

They were revered as inherently sacred because they possessed and manifested both feminine and masculine spiritual qualities. Because of this, Two Spirits were believed to bestow upon them a ‘universal knowledge’ and special spiritual connectedness with the ‘Great Spirit’.

The colonists and missionaries upset that culture.

That’s why one tribe will respect LGBTI Two-Spirits people, yet another will ostracize them.

‘Homophobia was taught to us as a component of Western education and religion,’ Navajo anthropologist Wesley Thomas has written.

‘We were presented with an entirely new set of taboos, which did not correspond to our own models and which focused on sexual behavior rather than the intricate roles Two-Spirit people played. As a result of this misrepresentation, our nations no longer accepted us as they once had.’

Although the term was coined in the early 1990s, historically Two-Spirits depicted transgender Native Americans. Today, the term has come to also include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Native Americans.

Because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, their actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability and legal justice. Instead the Pilgrims brought about the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an annual parade and national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

I’m optimistic this Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving might not look hopeful for many. But I draw my strength and models of justice from the interconnections and intersections of various struggles and activist groups across the nation and the world.

Trump’s presidency worries me. America is experiencing a difficult and divided time. But I’m optimistic. Words and acts of justice are springing up in places, times and people you least expect, signaling the struggle continues on.

When Vice President-elect Mike Pence went to see Broadway hit Hamilton, the actor Brandon Victor Dixon told him this:

‘We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir.

‘But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

‘We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.’

In our struggle for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we should not solely focus on the story of Plymouth Rock. Instead, as Americans, we must focus on creating this nation as a solid rock that rests on a multicultural and inclusive foundation.

Thanksgiving helps us remember and respect the struggles our nation’s foremothers and forefathers endured. But we must also remember and respect the struggle disenfranchised communities across the country face. And that particularly applies to our Native American brothers and sisters on Thanksgiving Day.