This letter was originally shared in 2018.
A Message from Scalawag to Our Readers
Since 1970 Native peoples in New England have practiced a Day of Mourning on the fourth Thursday of November. According to the United American Indians of New England, "Many of us fast from sundown the day before through the afternoon... We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands." At the other coast, on the island of Alcatraz, indigenous peoples have practiced "Unthanksgiving Day" since 1975 in commemoration of an occupation of the island led by Mohawk activist Richard Oakes and Native college students from 1969 to 1971, to draw attention to the US government’s violation of the 1869 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Participants and activists demanded that the site of the former federal prison be transformed into a Native American cultural and education center.
As we have written before, the genocide of indigenous peoples, the depopulation of the Americas to then make room for extraction and economic development through chattel slavery, is the before that will always mediate all of our afters. Many of us also know this time of year as a holiday of abundance, of sharing laughter and full bellies with friends and family, a rare day off for many workers. While there is never enough time or space to write or speak adequately to the breadth of violence that makes a holiday like "Thanksgiving" possible, we at least want to take this day to say: we aspire to another kind of sharing. Amplifying the grief of indigenous peoples is often relegated to something extraneous or perhaps too negative for a holiday which so many enjoy, but in our time at Scalawag we have grown to recognize that reckoning with the past, and holding grief, is not an inhibition but rather an invitation. Grieving can be an invitation to look more closely, to build kinship together, to imagine a grander, kinder, more accountable society we can all call home.
At the top of their description of the National Day of Mourning, the United American Indians of New England write: "We are not vanishing. We are not conquered. We are as strong as ever." To take hope seriously, we believe in nurturing the seeds of grief but with that comes the growth of solidarity. As a publication we know we do not have all the answers, but we do believe we can always choose to try to study in co-dignity, alongside the people who have survived.
Last year Colin Kaepernick, who has become a global figure of anti-racist protest, joined the Unthanksgiving Day ceremonies at Alcatraz, afterwards he stated:
"I realize that our fight is the same fight. We're all fighting for our justice, for our freedom, and realizing that we're in this fight together makes it all the more powerful.
If there's one thing that I take away from today and seeing the beauty of everybody out here, it's that we're only getting stronger every day, we're only getting larger and larger every day. I see the strength in everybody."
We wish you and your family health and joy at this time of year. It is because of our gratitude that we are committed to telling the stories that do not often get told—our gratitude for living and loving alongside you in this place named South. We believe a practice of gratitude means sharing more than a meal together, more than a day. We hope to show our gratitude to our readers and our communities by always attempting to share the truth.