young-person-at-Ohlone-gathering-Coyote-Hills-2010

Grief, gratitude, and witness

by Sam Ames, Esq., JD, MTS
Interim Executive Director

On this day – for some a day of gratitude, for others a day of grief, and for many a day of both – I want to start by acknowledging that the history of this holiday can be a painful one. It’s especially complex for many LGBTQ people, for families facing food insecurity, and for those indigenous to this land.

Like every community, we owe our lives to the generations that came before us. Some were brought here against their will, some had to leave their homes in hope of a better life, and some have lived in this place for millennia. Today, we begin by paying respect to them – to the elders of the Raymatush Ohlone tribes both past and present from whose land I write this letter.

This originates from a practice in many Indigenous traditions when traveling to another’s home to acknowledge being guests and acting with respect. But today, we have to also acknowledge that 250 years ago those who traveled here didn’t arrive as guests but as colonizers. In a season when Indigenous culture is often reduced to costume and grief whitewashed by gratitude, we have to remember that safe and loving community only grows where we are willing to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

Part of what accountability looks like today is honoring the descendants of those from whom this land was taken – who are still here fighting for recognition – by paying into the Shuumi land tax that funds the efforts of the Sogorea Te Land Trust in East Oakland, and supporting groups like the Indian People Organizing for Change, which works to preserve sacred sites in the Bay Area.* Part of it is talking to our families about the history of our country with tools like the books for all ages collected by Nambé Pueblo professor Debbie Reese. And part of it is not turning away from the complexity of a season that is many things to many people.

Whoever you are, and however you hold this day, you’re part of this family.

If you’re Indigenous and reminded every time you turn on the television that, on your Day of Mourning, this country would rather hold a multimillion dollar parade than a moment in honor of the ancestors you lost;

If you’re too queer or too trans or too political and reminded every time you open a newsfeed, filled with smiling faces around long tables, of the family you lost;

If you’re a survivor of abuse and reminded every time you make eye contact across the table of the childhood you lost;

If you’re grieving and reminded every time you see an empty chair of the love you lost;

If you’re a descendent of enslaved people and reminded every time a football player kneels that your leaders will pardon turkeys and torturers but won’t stop criminalizing Black bodies even after they’re lost;

If you’re a person without legal immigration status and reminded every time there’s a knock at the door of how much you could still lose;

If you’re in the dark, no matter the reason, and reminded every time you open your eyes of the light you can’t see –

We see you. And we’re so grateful you’re part of our family.

*And also: Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits and Indian Canyon.

One thought on “Grief, gratitude, and witness

  1. Pingback: First Americans Thursday, No Fonts – NICOLA GINZLER

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