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Why I am reflecting on refugees this Thanksgiving

Why I am reflecting on refugees this Thanksgiving

Landing of the Pilgrims by Michele Felice Cornè.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving, I hope over this holiday season there will be a change of heart with many US governors now closing their doors to Syrian refugees since the recent terrorist attacks in France.

It is a time, after all, to think of refugees.

For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration, but rather a time for mourning.

Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coles Hill, overlooking Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrim’s first landed. There they commemorate a National Day of Mourning on this US holiday.

In particular 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 is a symbol of persecution of Native Americans and their long history of bloodshed with European settlers.

The plaque on Coles Hill says this of Thanksgiving: ‘It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.’

Like the Syrians today, the Pilgrims were refugees, seeking a better life. They sought refuge here in America from religious persecution in their homeland.

They were right in their dogged pursuit of religious liberty. But their practice of religious liberty came at the expense of the civil rights of Native Americans.

They were, at first, dependent on the indigenous people.

‘Most pilgrims would have died during the harsh winter had it not been for the open arms of the Native Americans,’ Taylor Bell wrote in The Hypocrisy Of Refusing Refugees at Thanksgiving.

Because the Pilgrims’ fervor for religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, they did not proceed with moral liability or legal justice.

They brought about the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an annual national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival.

In 1990, President George H W Bush designated November as ‘national American Indian Heritage Month’ to celebrate the history, art, and traditions of Native American people.

I think too of the work of The United American Indians of New England (UAINE), a Native-led organization of Native people. They support indigenous struggles in New England and throughout the Americas. And they help communities of color, LGBTI communities, and, yes, Pilgrim refugees, to understand the interconnections of struggles.

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

Doing so helps us to remember the struggles this nation’s foremothers and forefathers endured. But it also helps us to respect the present-day struggle of the Syrian refugees and the ongoing struggle our Native American brothers and sisters face everyday – particularly on Thanksgiving Day.