Many Americans just got done celebrating the long Thanksgiving holiday. What most of us probably didn't realize as we sat down to our feast was that descendants of the Native Americans who joined the Pilgrims for a harvest celebration are losing their lands. Again.
Last week, over 200 Mashpee Wampanoag tribal members rallied with allies and lawmakers in Washington D.C. to voice opposition to a recent withdrawal of Mashpee land from trust status. This follows a Sept. 7 decision in which the Department of the Interior formally removed land from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s territory in eastern Massachusetts. This ruling reverses an Obama-era decision to place 321 acres into federal trust for the tribe, and effectively revokes the sovereignty of the Mashpee Wampanoag people.
A lot of non-indigenous Americans don't learn much about the history of this nation. We're given a watered-down version of the Thanksgiving myth, where it's made to sound like English colonizers were welcomed with open arms by the East Coast tribes. I don't ever remember being told in school that the land the Pilgrims settled on was cleared and cultivated: it had been a thriving community long before anyone from the "Old World" arrived. It just didn't have any survivors.
And Plymouth, Mr. Loewen noted, was already a village with clear fields and a spring when the Pilgrims found it. “A lovely place to settle,” he said. “Why was it available? Because every single native person who had been living there was a corpse.” Plagues had wiped them out.
And Tisquantum, the man who taught the colonizers how to plant maize and survive here? He knew English because he'd been kidnapped and sold into slavery less than a decade before. When he escaped and returned, all of his people were gone, dead of diseases they had no defenses against. And just a year after the "first" Thanksgiving, he died of "Indian fever," possibly leptospirosis. The Patuxet were extinct.
The Mashpee Wampanoag are not. And you can help ensure they get to hold on to a few hundred precious acres of the thousands or hundreds of thousands they used to possess. Call, write, fax, or email your Congressperson and ask them to support the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act. Do it, today, because this country owes that infinitesimal bit of land to the descendants of the people who helped ensure the United States exists.
Don't stop there.
You can help preserve lands that aren't only of immense cultural value to Native Americans, but lands that are also a geological treasure. We talked about what happened to Bears Ears and Grand Escalante last year. The monuments were drastically slashed in December of 2017. By February of 2018, those lands were up for grabs:
"It is outrageous to witness the dismantling of the Bears Ears national monument, in what constitutes a serious attack on Indigenous peoples' rights in the United States," said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Tauli-Corpuz noted that the previous administration's decision to create the monument "protected thousands of sacred sites which are central to the preservation of regional Native culture." He warned that Trump's decision to reduce Bears Ears by about 85 percent "exposes thousands of acres of sacred lands and archaeological sites to the threats of desecration, contamination and permanent destruction."
The ANTIQUITIES Act of 2018 would help protect these lands. Ask your senators to support it.
Learn about the original inhabitants of the land your city and state are on. Many of them are fighting for recognition, fighting for the return of a fraction of their land, fighting to retain what little they have. You can help.
It's the best thanks we can give.