Embracing gratitude over despair

By Mark Anthony Rolo

Tribune News Service

This Thanksgiving season, American Indians are once again embracing hope and gratitude over despair.

In each new administration, tribal nations must renew the battle to ensure their sovereignty and protect their rights to health care, education and employment. Whether the new president is Democrat or Republican, tribes must routinely remind Washington that these protections and provisions are based on treaties ratified by the U.S. Congress. The hope is that this struggle for our rights will not be in vain.

Other entities beyond Washington seek to undermine the ability of tribes to protect their homelands. In the past year, the fight against a corporate oil pipeline that threatens sacred lands and drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota has escalated. It is an uphill battle against multinational corporate exploitation, but the Standing Rock community is grateful for the support of other tribes and non-native people who share a concern about preserving the environment.

You might think the pressures of intergenerational poverty, the highest unemployment rates in the country and the highest rates of suicide among native youth in the nation would have crushed the spirits of American Indians long ago. But this has not occurred. Hope and gratitude have always been sources of strength for my people.

I remember as a child growing up in northern Minnesota. My family was huge. We were desperately poor, and my white father was a raging alcoholic. How my Chippewa Indian mother kept her heart from despair is unimaginable to me.

Each Thanksgiving, my mother would go all out with a loving holiday meal. She would rise early to prepare the food and was always the last one in the household to eat. I now wonder if her devotion to the holiday was based on being thankful for surviving. Did she think about the even-tougher struggles her family and ancestors faced when the land of our people, our language, our traditional values and spirituality were ripped away through boarding schools and other assimilation efforts?

Thanksgiving is considered by many American Indians to be a celebration that excludes us and a reminder of all we have lost to the white man. I don’t disagree. But when I think of my mother and so many other Indians who have survived with dignity, I choose to believe that hope and gratitude make the holiday worth celebrating.

Mark Anthony Rolo is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. And he is the author of the memoir “My Mother Is Now Earth.” He wrote this for Progressive Media Project

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