It’s Thanksgiving morning, and the table is full of thick slices of winter squash sitting on trays like fat golden half moons. They smell like cantaloupe. We are taking the squashes with dings and bruises that will not cure down for winter and roasting them into puree for the freezer, and juicing them for pumpkin vinegar.
Today is a fasting day for us. I have fasted on Thanksgiving, (Thankstaking, Truthgiving, etc) for a bunch of years now. I donate the money I would have spent hosting a big dinner to a Native cause. This year it was helping cover transportation and hotels for people traveling to Alcatraz for the Sunrise Ceremony. It has already happened, and was beautiful.
Hunter just dropped a squash on its soft spot and it imploded wetly. The ones we can’t eat will be fed to the chickens, who love fermenting and soft fruits like these. The work of processing includes handling the messy and unpalatable and transforming it into nourishment in some form as well, through the beaks of chickens or mouths of worms in the compost.
For most years I’ve followed the model of fasting I use on Yom Kippur- I don’t eat or drink from sundown to sundown. Some years I have had to work outdoors in the cold very hard on this day, because animals don’t understand holidays or days of mourning, and on those days I have tended to drink hot water, because dehydration is dangerous and drinking cold water in the cold while fasting feels unhealthy. Today is the first year we have been seriously sick in my household.
I feel miserable. Fever and headache and chills, and my throat is so dry and painful I can barely swallow. So today, by the consensus of the three people living in this house, we will drink tea with honey and salt for electrolytes, and will drink broth later if we feel we need to.
I want our abstinence to be meaningful, but not unsafe. I want to acknowledge and atone for our group complicity in injustice and also maintain love and care for ourselves as vulnerable individuals. This is a balancing act present in every day of life on stolen land.
The human impulse to celebrate a Harvest Festival is ancient and present in many cultures, such as the Irish Mabon and the Jewish Sukkot. I think its an inherently wholesome thing to celebrate, except when it comes with a self congratulatory erasure of the actual history of occupation of a stolen land, which sadly this holiday does. So, after years of compromise when I called it something else (“farmsgiving”) and included donations and education about local contemporary Native issues, I ultimately decided just not to participate in this day. I live a beautiful life full of beautiful food and 100% of that is dependent on the work Indigenous land stewards did for millennia and are doing now to try to protect what is left after the destruction of colonization. I can give up food and celebration for one day in solidarity.
Not all of us can afford to do that. Some of my peers whose work schedules give them no time to see family might feel they need to seize this time. We’re all trying to survive Late Capitalism, and if giving this day up isn’t workable, I’m not going to judge you for that. I would just encourage you to listen to Native voices on this issue, from a diversity of perspectives, and contribute to their causes if you can, and reflect on your place on this land.
Considering today as a day of mourning, I am thinking about the people in my home county who were forcefully marched across the mountains at gunpoint, the elders killed along the way, and how many of them were sick, as I am sick today, but without the soft bed and rest that I can return to if I get too fatigued being up. The cruelty of the settlers and colonists is truly beyond my comprehension to understand, but I see it still happening now, in how Water Protectors are gassed and shot, at how the Pomo Land Back movement here is attacked and Indigenous grandmothers threatened, with bullet casings thrown at one of them by young white men in trucks speaking about target practice. Others with revving trucks a foot from their face. I see it in my queer siblings lost this week in Colorado, and in the sign to our Shul across the road ripped off the building, the “Jew” in Mendocino Coast Jewish Community gouged.
I see the hatred and cruelty, but I can’t understand it. I can’t understand what drives people to do these things. I worry that if I can’t understand it, I don’t know how to stop it. I am mourning for the people who were hurt and killed by it in the past, and those that are today. I’m mourning in advance for my beautiful community who I am afraid will be hurt or lost. There is something deeply broken in the spirit of Americanism. A brokenness that defends itself from reflection with violence.
Today I am mourning that the United States of America exists at all. Imagine for a moment what this continent without colonization would have been. I don’t mean without travel- Polynesian and Asian people had been traveling to this continent for ages before colonization. What happened here wasn’t inevitable. It didn’t have to be this way. Imagine California, one of the most linguisticly diverse places on earth, the home of elk and grizzly bears and wolves and the mightiest migratory bird flyway in the world, untamed and undrained by agriculture. Imagine this continent entering the Information Age as a collection of sovereign Indigenous Nations. When Europeans were still shitting in the streets cities in Central America had indoor plumbing. What would have happened if Europe hadn’t interfered with their scientific advancement?
What would have happened in Europe itself? If transportation, as it was called, wasn’t an option to get rid of political dissidents and the starving poor? If the Scottish Clearances couldn’t have happened? If the Diggers Movement couldn’t be broken up, if England couldn’t have outsourced production to colonies and therefore couldn’t have devoted all its own land to industrial mills? Europe would have had to deal with itself. It wouldn’t have been just the French who had a revolution. The Irish may not have been starved to death because the British would have been weaker as a military power. My ancestors might not have had to flee.
I wish Europeans never learned to build boats. I don’t imagine there’s any version of history that would be without cruelty and bloodshed, but I think it would have been a better world.
I’m brought back to the present moment by the oven door opening, trays of golden squash coming out in a fountain of steam. It’s strange to process food without tasting anything, but at this time of year we can’t spend a whole day out of the kitchen. The winter squash is a Native invention, a result of millennia of selection. It is an amazing technology, an electricity free storage method for carbohydrates and protein rich seeds through the long winter. Everything I have is due to Native innovation and labor. My very body, with its mix of genetics from all over the world coming together in Agricultural California, would be impossible without colonization. I would give all of it up to see a world where none of this happened.
Because I never will see that world, instead I want to see a future where Native land management and culture take its rightful place at the center of our society. One way we can begin to make that possible is to tell the truth about the past and present treatment of Native people on this land, and let go of our comfortable fables. Another way is to directly return land stewardship to Native people. Xa Kako Dile, a nonprofit lead by Native women, is housed now on Fortunate Farm, which we began years ago to feed the community. I understand a bit more now about what that means, and what is required of us to make the future we want to see. I know I am only just beginning my education and deconstruction, which will go on forever.
Wherever you are today and whatever you’re doing, I hope you take a moment to mourn the lives, stories, cultural knowledge, food ways, and relationships lost to colonization, and reevaluate how you can act in this next year to bring healing and reconnection to the land you’re on.