SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — While many Americans mark the fourth Thursday of November as a time to give thanks, it serves as a day of reflection and remembrance among Indigenous people who recognize the darker side of Thanksgiving.
Since 1970, Native Americans and supporters have gathered at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, not to celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers, but to commemorate the National Day of Mourning.
The event, which coincides with Thanksgiving Day, is a time to honor Native American culture and reflect on struggles Indigenous people have faced for centuries, including the genocide of their ancestors.
This year, due to the spread of COVID-19 and related travel restrictions, a group gathered in downtown Savannah at the African-American Monument on River Street instead of traveling to New England.
Clint Tawes, an enrolled member of the Edisto-Natchez Kusso Tribe of South Carolina, and Indigenous activist Laura Shadley of the Klamath, Wasco, Shasta and Pit River Tribes, led the small ceremony in solidarity with those who gather in Plymouth.
The ceremony took place during National Native American Heritage Month, which is celebrated throughout November.
Shadley, who comes from Oregon and has lived in the Savannah area for the past 13 years, says the honoring of Native Americans should extend far beyond November’s fourth Thursday.
“It’s not just about this day, it’s about every day for the past 528 years,” Shadley told WSAV NOW.
“People are so willing to sweep things under the rug in the name of healing, but we’re not there yet,” said Shadley, who hosts a weekly radio show called Indigenous Voices on WRUU 107.5 Savannah.
“We’re not there as a nation, we’re not there as Indigenous people, we’re not there as Black people, where we really need to start uncovering the truth and sharing that with our children so that they can move forward on a whole different path from what we’re doing right now,” she said.
Shadley noted that Indigenous people have endured a number of struggles for many years through present day.
“We’re still not allowed to vote freely, they make it very difficult, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” she shares, adding that Indigenous people still have land taken from them, and some still inhabit communities without clean water.
It has made it harder to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shadley says.
“A lot of the tribes don’t have the same kind of access to health care, and with the Navajo Nation, they struggle because they don’t have clean water in some of the areas where they live,” she said. “So how are they supposed to keep their hands clean or sanitize their homes properly when they have to truck their water in?”
She adds that through the countless struggles, Indigenous people have learned to adapt.
“A lot of people have been able to maintain their cultures and their languages, we’re a very resilient people,” Shadley said. “We’ve been trying really hard to keep teaching our youth so that we can keep our traditions alive.”
The Indigenous activist notes that they are not victims, but they have been victimized.
“That’s something that people just need to start acknowledging, and then working to try to figure out how they can help,” Shadley said.
“It’s important not just for Indigenous people, but us as human beings, because I really want to see us move into a different direction,” she added. “I think we can, it just takes everybody’s collective energy, you know, to want to move into that different direction.”