Gratitude on this National Day of Mourning

My 10th great-grandfather arrived to what is now known as Plymouth, MA on the Mayflower in 1620.  This means that a not insignificant amount of my family legacy involves direct participation in the colonization, genocide, and erasure of Native peoples and the theft and resource extraction of their lands. This was very present to me as I stood in solidarity with the Protectors at Standing Rock.

Also present was the ancestral trauma that our Native relatives bear. Science is confirming what many have instinctually known for generations: that the diseases that disproportionately affect the populations in the US who bear the brunt of institutionalized white supremacy – diabetes, heart failure, and addiction – are diseases of trauma. If my Native brothers and sisters have to bear the weight of the trauma, the legacy of the ongoing war that has been waged on them for 500 years, don’t I have to bear the weight of participation and complicity in that war?

My family, for multiple generations now, has been populated largely by socially progressive well-meaning white folks who have, knowingly or otherwise, benefitted greatly from the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy. All my ancestors that I have known have been good people with good hearts and good intentions. And yet, our collective impact has not always reflected those good hearts.

I want to be clear: I’m not consumed with guilt or self-hatred because of this legacy, a common hallmark of white fragility. Rather, I am grateful to have the clarity, courage, and power to participate in the dismantling of a system that has benefited me and my family, while doing unspeakable harm to so many. The thing is that right now, the harm must be spoken. It can no longer be deemed unspeakable, hidden in the shadows, or whitewashed and mythologized. (It is also important to name the participating in these structures has compromised our own humanity. We have harmed ourselves.)

The last day I was in Standing Rock, I said goodbye to the elders, thanked them for their hospitality, for their bold prophetic voices, and for showing the world what prayerful, peaceful resistance can do. As I looked into the eyes of a man in his 70’s I told him of the legacy I bear within my bloodline and I told him I was committed to building a new legacy. He hugged me for a long time, thanked me, and wished me well on my journey home.

A National Day of Mourning has been organized by the United American Indians of New England each Thanksgiving Day since 1970. This day questions the Pilgrim Mythology and centers the ongoing struggles of Native peoples. I’ve been aware of this day for many years and have tried each year, in my own way, to observe the day in that spirit. Too many times, my observation has been quiet and personal because I did not know how to reconcile customs with the realities of history.

This year, I am going to accept the invitation into paradox. I am going to practice gratitude with my family and loved ones while openly rejecting whitewashed versions of history that only serve to perpetuate the violence that has brought us to where we are today. I am going to follow the example set by my native relatives at Standing Rock and commit to building relationships where we can uphold each other’s dignity, share in truthful storytelling, and break bread with broken hearts and soaring spirits.

As a sacred activist, I cannot describe the feeling of seeing sacred activism at work on a large scale at Standing Rock.  I felt very grateful for my years and years of yoga practice, which have taught me how to hold myself accountable in love, how to be uncomfortable, and how to participate in the restoration of myself and others into wholeness. On that holy ground I was given the opportunity to feel the immense pain of what people – my people – have done AND be shown the path forward.

This path is not an easy one. It will require some collective mourning, some collective amends-making, and a collective commitment to dismantling all the interlocking systems of oppression. On this National Day of Mourning, I am especially celebrating with a grateful heart the opportunity to live at this time when the veil has been lifted. The work that needs to be done on a personal and national level is very clear now. The unspeakable has been spoken. So, we listen deeply and we respond with mournful, grateful, open hearts.

Love, 

Vania