Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, which is hosting its annual Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island Thursday, joined Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear to discuss the myths surrounding Thanksgiving.
Between 20 and 100 million Indigenous people in the New World died with the arrival of European settlers; they were starved, tortured and massacred by the colonists. Although the "first Thanksgiving" truly may have been the peaceful celebration of the Pilgrims' first harvest in 1621 between the Europeans and the Wampanoag people, Thanksgiving should be far from a celebration of the massive genocide of indigenous people by European colonizers.
On Thursday, many people will instead choose to participate in the Indigenous People's Sunrise Gathering, which is a commemoration of the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay by the "Indians of All Tribes." Eighty-nine American Indians and supporters, led by Mohawk Native American activist Richard Oakes, occupied the land as a demonstration for the rights to land illegally taken away from indigenous people by English colonizers.
"We moved onto Alcatraz Island because we feel that Indian people need a cultural center of their own. For several decades, Indian people have not had enough control of training their young people. And without a cultural center of their own, we are afraid that the old Indian ways may be lost. We believe that the only way to keep them alive is for Indian people to do it themselves," a 1969 letter from the Indians of All Tribes reads, Native Voices reports.
"We've been doing it [the Indigenous People's Sunrise Gathering] for 30 years now, and it's a combination of recognizing the beginning of the national and international indigenous people's movement," Carmen told hosts John Kiriakou and Walter Smolarek.
"We want to commemorate those that stood up for indigenous rights. The very first Thanksgiving was officially declared by the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony to celebrate the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children during their harvest ceremony. It's an ironic twist. It's only one of the many lies perpetuated in this country about the true history that needs to be still corrected or at least addressed," Carmen added.
The event, which will be broadcast on KPFA Radio at 6 a.m. PST Thursday, will be a chance to commemorate the people who lost their lives in the struggle against colonization, Carmen added.
Another common myth that is perpetuated in American and British society is that the colonists brought civilization to what is now called North America.
"But that's really nonsense, isn't it?" Smolarek asked.
"Indigenous people had governments and continue to have governments. I don't ever want to talk about our [indigenous] nation being in the past. We had governments; we had technology, science, culture, our own languages and a harmonious relationship with our traditional lands, resources, animals and plants," Carmen told Sputnik.
"It is true that the indigenous nations along the east coast [of the US] taught the settlers how to eat. They were starving, they had scurvy. We [indigenous people] have been victims and the target of the most brutal genocide the world has ever seen," Carmen added.