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A Native take on Thanksgiving and Standing Rock

Mariano Avila

I’ve been following Lin Bardwell for nearly a year, trying to learn more about West Michigan’s urban Native population. She’s from the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and is involved in the West Michigan Native community. So, with Thanksgiving on the mind, a day in which I was taught that pilgrims and Natives gave thanks together, I decided to call her. Turns out she was heading away from home.

“We just crossed into North Dakota and we’re heading into Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where Standing Rock is.”

Standing Rock is the reservation where the Sioux Nation and about 200 Native tribes are facing off against the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. So, I asked her why go now, on Thanksgiving?

“I made this trip so I can be with the new members of my family at Oceti Shakawin Camp and spend Thanksgiving with them since they can’t be with their families.”  

These new members of her family are the water protectors from Michigan who, like her, go back and forth or have been there for months. My next question: what does Thanksgiving mean to you?

“The US history classes teach this romanticized story. They glaze over the actual facts of Thanksgiving where they killed and massacred an entire tribe and in celebration called it Thanksgiving.”  

To clarify, the reference is in 1637 when William Bradford, then Governor of Plymouth, ordered the massacre of some 700 Pequot men, women and children. So what’s the connection between that event, and Standing Rock?

“It perpetuates this false sense of who we are as a nation. And if we don’t know our history, we’re bound to repeat it.” 

Now, ending on a positive note. I did ask Lin what she’s thankful for.

“I’m thankful that I’m able to be a part some how.” 

Mariano Avila is WGVU's inclusion reporter. He has made a career of bringing voices from the margins to those who need to hear them. Over the course of his career, Mariano has written for major papers in English and Spanish, published in magazines, worked in broadcast, and produced short films, commercials, and nonprofit campaigns. He also briefly served at a foreign consulate, organized for international human rights efforts and has done considerable work connecting marginalized people to religious, educational, and nonprofit institutions through the power of story.
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