Happy Thanksgiving was the shouted greeting all last week. Have a great holiday came in second. I know that some folks were wondering if they should wish me anything at all considering the brouhaha all over the news about what the real Thanksgiving was actually like. I could see it in their eyes: What do you say to an indigenous citizen during this holiday?
I say let it evolve. We, and by we, I mean those brought up in indigenous tribal cultures, have long known the real story. We have always known about the hellacious genocide during the expansion of America. We have always known about and managed our assimilation. As my grandmother used to say “It’s too late for sorry now,” meaning that it was too late to change what is, or what was to happen. I don’t mean don’t go there. I mean learn it, embrace it, and add it to your true facts about America. Stand up when you see injustice. Speak for indigenous cultures when you see something unfair or hateful. By doing that you may understand why I can say I am thankful and greatful for my ancestors surviving the genocide and assimilation. I am thankful for my Slovakian father. I am greatful for the father of my children. I am thankful for having been given the gift of indigenousness and being able to pass that on to my children.
We have the best of both worlds and we have the choice of expanding our horizons in so many different directions. Our table is laden with the choices of all cultures. Literally. So we raise our glasses filled with wine, or coffee, or water, or beer, and our shot glasses full of whiskey or tequilla, and the Hungarian who cooked the duck starts with being thankful for all of us coming together and we all chime in with cheers, salute, cin cin, et cetera and clink glasses all around. And eat too much pie.
June 3, 1942 was the third event in the modern history of the Unangax of the Aleutian Islands that indelibly changed our pathway. The first, in 1741, was contact with the Russian fur procurers which resulted in a near genocide. The second, occurring in 1867, was the purchase of Alaska by the United States, known for years as a folly. This event that sold the indigenous peoples of Alaska and the land for $7.2 Million put the Unangax people into the assimilation machine that forced Natives to stop speaking their language, eating native foods, practicing native religions, and associating with other natives, and being forced into speaking only English. Only then could they be considered civilized. Only then could a native who came close to this interpretation of civilized life become an American citizen. The third event, the invasion of the Aleutian Islands by the Japanese Imperial Army, led to the forced evacuation of all of the Unangax from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands to abandoned mines and fish caneries in southeast Alaska, absolutely stripping them of their civil and personal liberties. Their return, in late 1945, over three years from departure, brought them back having lost 10 to 15 percent of their population to death and back to homes and churches that had been vandilized and/or burned by the military that was supposed to protect them.
So we honor our lost villages, our lost people, our disappearing language and culture as we also honor those who gave their lives and youth to our fog-enshrouded islands in the protection of the United States. We have mitigated our anger and dispair and have come, once again, to accept our past as a way of growing and becoming strong so that we can reclaim those parts of our culture that swim at the edge of the abyss. Our mantra is, and always will be, adaptation.
Xristuusax̂ Aĝlaĝikux̂! Aĝanĝulakan Aĝlaĝikux̂! (Unangam tunuu) Khristós anésti! Alithós anésti! (Greek) Khristos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese! (Church Slavonic) Kristus vstal z mŕtvych! Skutočne vstal z mŕtvych! (Slovak) Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!