WW PHOTO: Stephanie Tromblay
The land now known as Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island is the original homeland of the Wampanoag people and the origin setting of the Thanksgiving tall tale. There, the sun rises and greets the continent now referred to as the United States of America first, which is why the people of this land are named Wampanoag, which means “People of the first light”. We share this as a reminder that the names of Native Nations matter because they illustrate the inseparable relationship that binds Indigenous people to the land. No matter where you reside, Native people exist. They are of the land and the land is of them — and so it is that the land will always belong and be a part of them.
Oregon Food Bank stands in solidarity with Indigenous people across the country to recognize and raise awareness of the National Day of Mourning. In marking this day, we aim to see the Thanksgiving holiday from the perspective of the first stewards of the land — and begin to correct false histories and heal some of the harm done through celebration.
Every year since 1970, Native people and supporters gather on a hill that overlooks what is now referred to as Plymouth Bay and Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts to observe the National Day of Mourning, known by many as Thanksgiving Day. To many Natives, especially Wampanoag people, standing on that hill is a testament of their continued resistance and survival. It’s as if they are turning the hands of time to witness what the Wampanoag saw in 1620 — the arrival of the Mayflower colonists who would attempt to wipe them out, using the tall tale of this holiday to justify the theft and exploitation of Native land and people. But you don’t have to stand atop that hill to see the effects of colonization, the long-lasting impacts of broken treaties and the need to observe the National Day of Mourning.
During the 1950s, some of the most violent anti-Native policies took place in Oregon. Native people were stripped of their cultural identity and forced to assimilate into American mainstream society. Federal Indian policies terminated trust relationships between the government and Native people who owned land or property. One by one, Indigenous communities lost federal recognition and sovereignty because the government no longer upheld responsibilities to protect Native rights, allowing opportunists to extract Native land of its natural resources for profit.
The restoration of tribes' trust status began in 1975 with the Siletz Restoration Act and the Siletz people regained their recognition in 1977. Throughout the 1980s some Native communities such as the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw and the Klamath regained federal recognition. However, restoration did not mean that lands were returned to Indigneous people in their entirety. For example, the Klamath reservation was left with about 300 acres.
Since regaining federal recognition, tribes continue to persevere against government attacks that threaten Indigenous sovereignty.
We highlight these often-invisibilized and denied truths to honor each other’s history, to increase understanding, and to strengthen relationships that heal and grow our capacity to solve collective problems – such as hunger. Pre-pandemic, Black, Indigenous and all People of Color were disproportionately suffering from poverty and food insecurity.
In addition to disproportionate rates of poverty, Native Americans also experience food insecurity at a staggeringly high rate as compared to the rest of the Nation. In a 2017 article, Move for Hunger noted that “one in four Native Americans is experiencing food insecurity, compared to 1 in 8 Americans overall. Native American families are 400% more likely to report being food insecure, in no small part because food and jobs are scarce in the communities where they live.”
In the midst of a global crisis, BIack, Indigenous and all People of Color are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, exacerbated by challenges in economic recovery tied to pushback against efforts to control the spread of COVID-19.
At Oregon Food Bank we lift these truths to inform and guide our efforts to eliminate hunger and its root causes, to ensure resources reach our hardest-hit communities, and to work as efficiently as possible with the resources we are trusted with. We also acknowledge that our work takes place on Indigenous land, including where our buildings stand today. Though our journey toward decolonization and indigenization is in its infancy, it has already revealed otherwise-hidden stories and intersecting paths. We hope that our entire community will take time to learn more and reflect on the policies and practices that aid the genocide and erasure of Native people and Nations and support local actions in solidarity of Indigenous sovereignty.
Resources for Learning:
Redistricting leads to concern over diluted Indigenous voting power
“As voting-rights advocates in Indian Country look to boost Indigenous representation in politics, some say redrawn political maps in Oregon will dilute the power of many Native American voters to elect the candidates who best understand their communities.”
Oregon tribes question state gambling regulations
“The opponents hope their latest challenge will get a better reception than they got in the last session of the Oregon Legislature. The tribes called for a complete pause on new gambling games and venues and the formation of a task force to take a hard look at how gambling has changed and how the state should respond. Neither Brown nor lawmakers agreed and the so-called “Big Look” task force fizzled.”
“It’s a transfer of wealth — the casino money we use for housing, health care and other services — for the benefit of one wealthy individual.”
- Feds may investigate Chemawa Indian School in Salem after discovery of Canadian graves
Chemawa is the oldest continuously operating boarding school for Indigenous people in the country — it serves students from across the West and is one of only four such schools still operating.
- On Indigenous Peoples Day, Researchers Publish Database of Those Buried at Chemawa School
Three students came from three different tribes to attend Chemawa Indian School. Now, their mothers are still struggling to understand how their children’s futures fell apart — and what role the federally run boarding school played. Read more in Life and Death at Chemawa Indian School.
- Understanding the battle over the Indian Child Welfare Act
Legal experts said that the case could threaten not only the law but also the broad legal regime that allows for tribal sovereignty. Listen to the podcast series This Land to learn more.
Opportunities for Local and National Action:
Look up whose land you are on then reflect on how you can take part in addressing Indigenous issues where you live
Learn and share with your family the Day of Mourning history from a Wampanoag perspective
Attend these virtual educational gatherings led by Native leaders in the Pacific Northwest Indigenous Leadership: Ensuring a future for Native Peoples, Cultures, and Lands
Work with local organizations that are bridging cultural and political gaps through Indigenous first foods
If you live in Portland, read The Native American Community in Multnomah County: An Unsettling Profile and begin doing the work to “recognize and commit to solutions that are built in partnership with the Native American community, and to enact commitments that recognize that prosperity and well being for all in Multnomah county depends on the prosperity and well being of the Native American community.”