on Diné Family Day: why i hate Thanksgiving

I live on the Navajo Reservation, work for the Navajo Nation government, and have today off because today is Diné Family Day.

Operative word here: FAMILY

In the words of my boss this Wednesday, before President Begaye ordered a half-day of work, “Have a good Thanksgiving…and have a good Family Day.  Be with your family that day.  Or whoever is your friends, if you are alone.”  I know he was probably directed that last bit towards me, as I had told him I would have to spend the holidays with my friends in Saint Michaels.  But, regardless, I wouldn’t be spending the time in a store.

This time of year, I never know what we’re really celebrating anymore.  The October, November, and December months are jam-packed with holidays, but the spotlight is on sales, buying things, and handing out candy and change to the Goodwill.  Admittedly, Halloween and Christmas are my favorite holidays – but they’re my favorite on account of the atmosphere, the changing weather patterns, the music and creativity…

What is Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
is, of course, a controversial topic.  It’s supposed to memorialize the exchange between one group of English and one group of Wampanoag.  However, 55 years after the exchange, the residents of Massachusetts began massacring the very peoples that had saved their lives, launching Turtle Island into the start of hundreds of years of genocidal policy…which still continue today in various discreet forms.

url.png

We are supposed to be thankful for what we have…while remembering what was stolen to get here?

My dad texted me yesterday, “I hope you’re in an area that understands the true meaning of the holiday…who respects Mother Earth”.  I would like to think that’s true, but I also see how much the kitschy, off-the-rez border town lifestyle has consumed my neighbors.  It’s like when I lived in France: we all flocked to Camaïeu, craving a piece of affordable French fashion only to find our French peers seeking the exotic American styles that they thought were in vogue.

And that brings me to an enormous hypocrisy in our “American culture”:

  • We insist we have to be thankful for what we have, but we don’t always understand what it took – or what we took – to have it.
  • We rally against large corporations, forming unions, and spew hatred against the 1% that controls so much of our money, yet we are obsessive consumers willing to feed our money at the drop of a hat into these monopolies that are utilizing a foreign workforce.
  • We want to be grateful and equal, but we also want to have the one-up on those around us, we want to have a taste of anything that someone else is able to have, and we don’t think about the greater consequences behind our actions.

The Meat & Grocery Store Culture
Thanksgiving was about survival.  It was about learning how to manage with what you have, how to farm and harvest.  Today, rather than throwing together humble plates of maize, squash, beans, root vegetables, and maybe some venison or fowl… Today, we joke about how much we over-ate, all of the turkey we spent hours preparing, the dozens of lavish dishes….but is it really that funny?

url.jpg

One depressing reality of American gluttony is that our meat culture is, literally, destroying the planet.  A solid 51% of global emissions are caused by animal husbandry, a number that you feed into every time you purchase a meat, dairy, or egg-based product.  So forget turning off the lights or cutting your shower short – if you eat a burger, you’re causing way more damage than that will ever reverse.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, 300 million turkeys are slaughtered for centerpieces.  I’m not saying that because you should be vegetarian! or something.  I’m saying that because I’m an environmentalist, concerned about sustainability, about ethical practices, and about what we are putting into our bodies.  Peta is an over-aggressive organization, but all it takes is a short video to understand that ethical animal husbandry in the industrial food world simply does not exist.  But there are other factors that should make anyone cringe.

While most turkeys live in the wild to be a decade or so old, the ones raised on farms are sent to the slaughterhouse at about 5 to 6 months.  This is only possible because of the chemicals and hormones injected into the poults (baby turkeys) cause unnatural growth side effects.  To demonstrate the changes in the industry, consider this: In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds.  Today, he/she weighs 28 pounds, resulting in many animals with broken legs and distorted bodies because, well that’s just not natural and their bodies can’t keep up.

memes-rs-5-course-dinner.jpg

 

But meat isn’t the only thing that I find upsetting about our destructive society.  It’s also the produce we buy.  Arguments for organic and non-GMO products aside, we have a collective insatiable palate.  We’ve tasted the exotic coconuts and pomegranates, we crave watermelon in the winter, and it doesn’t matter where we live….we will eat it because, well, this is America dammit and it’s our Constitutional right!

We are so out-of-touch with the origins of our food, with the real world consequences of our choices.  We want to fight against raising taxes, emission regulations, and whatever else…but we will freely reap the benefits of having access to a global economy without once batting an eyelash at the problems this gluttony causes us.  We would rather not think about how the dishes we cooked use out-of-season vegetables and fruits, shipped to Minnesota from Mexico and Peru.

url.jpg

But why is being apathetic considered the norm??

Insert cries of: Shop local!  Shop small!  Shop seasonal!  Shop Organic!  Shop non-GMO!  Keep the integrity of our food and protect the livelihood of our farmers worldwide!

The Must-Have Culture
Piggy-backing off of the must-have culture of our food ethics is the must-have culture of our consumerism in general.  Rather than retaining DIY skills in big cities – with the exception of trendy Pinterest boards and “projects” – we are obsessed with the luxury of having whatever we want whenever we want it.  But that all comes with a cost.  That cost may not be one we see as we pull the credit card from our wallet; but it is a cost that will have more consequences than monetary if we don’t change our ways.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Take only what you need.  Unless you’re on a shopping spree.

We buy new things all the time.  We buy plastic things all the time.  Antiques become talking pieces.  Convenience becomes the norm.  Anything that takes any more effort because this baffling topic, like You seriously don’t have a microwave?  You don’t have television??  You AIR DRY your clothes?  HOW DO YOU LIVE??

Yeah, I get those all of the time.  My internal response: How do you live with your conscience, or do you not have one?

url.jpg

I’m not trying to be negative or cynical; I’m just trying to be the voice of logic that too few people are choosing to listen to.  When we become a must-have culture, we are jeopardizing so many freedoms.  We will stand up and rally for our freedoms, but we are simultaneously throwing them away.

When you fall into these Black Friday sales, you are abandoning your values.  You are abandoning your families, and supporting the large corporations who take family time away from their workers.  You are feeding into the monopolies.  You are supporting the manufacture of products outside for the US which, in turn, takes away from American jobs and supports foreign employment systems that treat humans as less than what they are.

We might be willing to throw a dollar or two into the Salvation Army pot come the holidays, probably out of guilt, but we are neglecting the amount of damage we are creating by our hypocritical consumer practices.  No dollar will fix that; only a revolution in our spending practices can.

Don’t Shop on Black Friday: State Parks are Offering Free Admission

Yes, it’s that bad.  Even State Parks that have historically suffered to make ends meet are now offering free admission to get your hypocritical asses out of the chain stores.

url.jpg

Maybe you don’t see how this will affect your lifetime.  But it will affect the lifetime of your descendants.  And anyone who cares about his or her children should care about the children of his or her children, and so forth.  It’s the same damn thing.

Yesterday, I made organic, vegan dishes for me and my friends.  Today, I will not enter a store but will instead do homework and work on xeriscaping my lawn.  What we do may not be perfect, but actively trying is a start.

What will you do (or refuse to do) to show that you care?

Festive or Infective?

Unknown

With the holidays cranking out since November’s American Thanksgiving, I can’t help but feel perpetual bitterness fueled by the generalized attitude of the public.  Shop shop shop shop shop, eat eat eat eat eat.  Whatever happened to the holidays being a time of togetherness and thankfulness?  No, of course not.  Now it’s just a constant competition to get the best deals, cook (or take-out!) way too much food, have a prettier tablescape, decorate your house better than the guy next to you, cut down a bigger tree (that took as much as 15 years to grow!), and complete forget what this time is about.  I don’t celebrate any holiday, but aren’t these supposed to be religious times, too?  Who even goes to Christmas Mass anymore?  When did Christmas become all about Santa?  And what about the other holidays?  (I got so many “Merry Christmas” goodbyes as I left work this week that I began to think…what about Chanukah?  Kwanza?  Winter Solstice??)

And what I really can’t get over is this: Christmas trees!  Dude, that’s a PAGAN tradition!  PAGAN.  For all of you Christian/Bible-reading superlatives out there.  And that’s fine.  But just remember it’s not some holy, Christian-only enterprise.  (I’m sick of people asking why my family puts up a tree.  Why run your car if you don’t believe in Global Warming?  You’re still partaking.)

So let’s all just have an enjoyable winter and not feel pressured to waste money buying gifts that you and others don’t need, cook too much food that will go to waste, and stay inside instead of enjoying all of the outdoor opportunities that are peaked in the colder areas this time of year and just as available as always to the warmer ones.

Thanksgiving and Remembering Cruel Truths

CRUELTRUTH“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” – Edward Abbey

With Thanksgiving arriving in just hours, I have had a lot of people asking me about how I view the holiday for two reasons: one, because of my native ancestry and, two, because of my views on eating meat.  In thinking about the answers to give, I realized these kinds of questions are so frequently posed out of a universal ignorance that I blame the American education system for.  Our schools don’t teach American Indian history nearly to the depth of its potential, the views are biased and often incorrect, and there exists a common lackluster outlook on American Indian history in general, borne primarily of the uninformed assumption that no American Indians could have influenced American modern history.  Thus I decided to combine a short bit of my view on the holiday with this quote about the truth.

Edward Abbey, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a writer and advocate in environmental issues, land policies, etc.  As you can imagine, he was very in-tune with discovering his own truths and acknowledging where real problems lie.  He reminds us that the truth is often a bitter pill to swallow, but living a lie is only disguising a lingering ache.  Sometimes, you’re better off just taking the blow making the best out of what you have.  So how can we apply this in daily life?  I say, look for the real truth, the honest hidden reasons and motivations behind everything around you, whether it be political, religious, or even just an action done by someone you do or don’t know.  Don’t settle on the easy explanation for anything, and don’t let yourself be biased by other peoples’ gullibility.  Become an active truth-seeker.  But I would also like to add this: Don’t be too arrogant to turn your head on your own mistakes.  If you’re called out on something, consider why, step back and honestly evaluate yourself and your actions, and don’t take offense.  Instead, learn how to improve upon it and better yourself, and even give thanks for the criticism.  It will make you a better person…yet, if only I could follow my own advice…

But how does this tie in to Thanksgiving?

As I mentioned, a lot of American history seems to have a filter on it to me, a filter that glorifies and burns the deeds of the government and which ignores and dodges the truth of the American Indian contributions to said history.  (And see what I did there?  “Burns”, “dodges’,.. it’s a photography darkroom reference…).  When the “Pilgrims” arrived, they were starving Englishmen.  They didn’t encounter “the Native Americans”, they were approached by the Wampanoags, a single tribe from the area at that time.  This tribe had many relations with other tribes in the region and farther, so strangers speaking another language and some culture shock was not a new concept for them.  Regardless of how the actual events unfurled that cause us to celebrate this single feast, Thanksgiving represents the Pilgrims’ absolute reliance on the Wampanoags for survival.  The Wampanoags showed them how to live off of their land and provided for them the very foods that contribute to the classic holiday meal.  The original feast was meant to recognize the knowledge- and resource-rich Wampanoag breaking equal bread with the impoverished, desolate Pilgrims and their thankfulness for each other.  Instead, the Pilgrims fell out of peaceful relations with the Wampanoags and thus began a long history of Indian oppression by the immigrants.  And although helping the Pilgrims probably didn’t affect the inevitable waves of subsequent immigrants and their hostile reactions towards American tribes, the actions of the Wampanoags certainly demonstrates the truth of their intentions and the willingness to share their sustainable, earth-appreciating practices to reap the benefits of their sacred homelands.

Yet today… today, Americans stuff their faces with these mass-produced, widely-shipped foods, losing touch with the original varieties and instead falling in love with altered, modified, and added-to versions of classic dishes.  Incredible amounts of fuel are burned to transport people in poor weather conditions all across this large, assimilated country – one that is deprived of the original cultures that helped sustain its first peoples.  Not only that, but the adulterated modern Christmas, filled with presents instead of family and tradition, is slowly flooding into the November holiday.  If Black Friday weren’t disgusting enough, now Christmas is trying to sell itself early and selfish, greedy shoppers are buying useless gifts everyone (including themselves!) instead of actually learning to appreciate and be thankful for what they have.  There is really nothing much left to the holiday, as originally intended…

Why do we not learn about these differences or address these problems?  Why do people so obsessed with these sales fail to see any way around it?  That is largely in part due to the cruel truth behind the events which unfurled and the improper education perpetuating half-truths.  It is a kind of denial against the problems of our past which now amplify our problems today.  And these problems continue to grow, but none will be fixed until we can acknowledge these problems and use them to correct ourselves.  There’s no need to live in a comfortable delusion…