(Includes a meal brought to you by Discomfort Foods)
I’ve been living on Custer Street in Salina, Kansas since the day I moved to the United States from India in 2000. At that time I had no idea who General George Armstrong Custer was and what he had stood for. Now I do.
On Thanksgiving Day I was in my kitchen here on Custer Street, and I received an email from Prison Radio that included Leonard Peltier’s “Thanksgiving 2019 Statement” read by Mumia Abu Jamal. So I listened to it as I was cooking our Thanksgiving dinner.
Typically, the type and quantity of each ingredient I might use in the presentation of a Discomfort Foods recipe is determined by choosing key statistics and points that are embedded in the story being conveyed and converting that to a measurement or meal design. But listening to the statement inspired me to turn the dinner I was already preparing—with our usual turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes and green beans—into a Discomfort Foods design. This time the discomfort element is to be experienced not through our taste buds, or the wonderful smells of the turkey cooking in the oven, or whatever. It comes from the words of Peltier in the voice of Abu Jamal—two people who are paying the heaviest of prices at the hands of white-freedom. That’s what makes any Thanksgiving meal hard to swallow. And should.
We associate Thanksgiving with the beginning of holidays and good eatin’—things we take for granted. Discomfort Foods challenges that. It isn’t just counter-comfort, It’s also counter-association, trying to replace grandiose associations—of our bloody history, of the present and of the future—with ones that are fact-based and justice-based.
The year of 2019 is coming to a close, and with it comes the day most Americans set aside as a day for Thanksgiving. As I let my mind wander beyond the steel bars and concrete walls, I try to imagine what the people who live outside the prison gates are doing, and what they are thinking. Do they ever think of the Indigenous people who were forced from their homelands? Do they understand that with every step they take, no matter the direction, that they are walking on stolen land? Can they imagine, even for one minute, what it was like to watch the suffering of the women, the children and babies and, yes, the sick and elderly, as they were made to keep pushing West in freezing temperatures, with little or no food? These were my people, and this was our land. There was a time when we enjoyed freedom and were able to hunt buffalo and gather the foods and sacred medicines. We were able to fish, and we enjoyed the clean clear water! My people were generous, we shared everything we had, including the knowledge of how to survive the long harsh winters or the hot humid summers. We were appreciative of the gifts from our Creator and remembered to give thanks on a daily basis. We had ceremonies and special dances that were a celebration of life.
With the coming of foreigners to our shores, life — as we knew it — would change drastically. Individual ownership was foreign to my people. Fences?? Unheard of, back then. We were a communal people, and we took care of each other. Our grandparents weren’t isolated from us! They were the wisdom keepers and story tellers and were an important link in our families. The babies? They were and are our future! Look at the brilliant young people who put themselves at risk, fighting to keep our water and environment clean and safe for the generations yet to come. They are willing to confront the giant, multi-national corporations by educating the general public of the devastation being caused. I smile with hope when I think of them. They are fearless and ready to speak the truth to all who are willing to listen. We also remember our brothers and sisters of Bolivia, who are rioting, in support of the first Indigenous President, Evo Morales. His commitment to the people, the land, their resources and protection against corruption is commendable. We recognize and identify with that struggle so well.
So today, I thank all of the people who are willing to have an open mind, those who are willing to accept the responsibility of planning for seven generations ahead, those who remember the sacrifices made by our ancestors so we can continue to speak our own language, practice our own way of thankfulness in our own skin, and that we always acknowledge and respect the Indigenous linage that we carry.
For those of you who are thankful that you have enough food to feed your families, please give to those who aren’t as fortunate. If you are warm and have a comfortable shelter to live in, please give to those who are cold and homeless, if you see someone hurting and in need of a kind word or two, be that person who steps forward and lends a hand. And, especially, when you see injustice anywhere, please be brave enough to speak up to confront it.
I want to thank all who are kind enough to remember me and my family in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for continuing to support and believe in me. There isn’t a minute in any day that passes without me hoping that this will be the day I will be granted freedom. I long for the day when I can smell clean fresh air, when I can feel a gentle breeze in my hair, witness the clouds as their movement hides the sun and when the moon shines the light on the path to the sacred Inipi. That would truly be a day I could call a day of Thanksgiving.
Thank you for listening to whomever is voicing my words. My Spirit is there with you.
Doksha, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, Leonard Peltier Star.