The War on Thanksgiving: Pilgrim's Regress?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) This Thanksgiving, as with every year since 1970, Native Americans and supporters of indigenous peoples throughout Canada, Mexico and the U.S. will march on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts to protest the turkey jubilee and reappropriate the holiday as National Day of Mourning (NDOM). After all, Governor John Winthrop declared the first official "Day of Thanksgiving" in 1637 to mark the return of men who had gone to Mystic, Conn. and massacred 700 Pequot Indians.
But this year, the sequestration cutbacks that have hampered the nation are at the forefront of the minds of those protesting the holiday.
"They have a disparate and very harmful impact on Native people," said Mahtowin Munro, an activist at the United American Indians of New England, which arranges the march. "People are already very poor in Indian Country, whether we live on or off the rez."
The NDOM celebrants, instead, will partake in a burning sage smudging ceremony, and a Mayan woman and man will lead opening prayers on Cole's Hill, overlooking Plymouth Harbor and the little Plymouth Rock shrine. A processional will wend its way through the town with speeches and cheers before disassembling into a giant potluck social. Yet this is anything but a joyous tryptophan-laden fest.
"We speak about the true history of this country rather than the whitewashed version that is frequently presented in the schools and media," Munro said.
A perennial cause célèbre has been fighting against sports team names and mascots perceived as racist (the Washington Redskins, for example, as highlighted this fall by President Barack Obama). Additionally on the agenda are the corporate assaults on Indian land and water, particularly related to the cause of the Mikmaq people in Elsipogtog, New Brunswick who have been trying to stop fracking on their ancestral homelands.
But the sequestration and its resulting economic ramifications to the indigenous populations are the focus.
That's because the sequestration reneges on treaties made between the U.S. and the tribes from 1778 to 1871 to guarantee education and health care. As part of the cutbacks beginning in March, the U.S. government sequestered $220 million from the Indian Health Service, a 5% ding to the agency's budget.
The White House estimates that tribal hospitals and clinics would provide 3,000 fewer inpatient admissions and 804,000 fewer outpatient visits--this for a population already beset by health risks (twice as likely as whites to die from diabetes, for example) and widely uninsured, with 34.2% of Native Americans under 65 lacking health insurance. Federal health care for Native Americans is not part of the nation's social welfare program, and though Congress had renewed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (PL 111-148), that's no longer.
"Sequestration has disrupted and broken this promise and forced the first people of this nation to remain the last in opportunity," said Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board.