Wednesday, November 21, 2012


November 20, 2012

The following speech was given at the Thanksgiving Day celebration in honor of Native Americans held on November 24, 2010 at New Freeway Hall in Seattle, WA. The speech was given by Guerry Hoddersen, International Secretary for the Freedom Socialist Party.

In celebration of a Native American Thanksgiving Feast

By Guerry Hoddersen

Welcome to New Freeway Hall’s 2010 Thanksgiving celebration!

For many years the Seattle branch of the Freedom Socialist Party has held a Tribute to Native Americans on this day and someone has been asked to say a few words before we eat. Listening to me for a few minutes is the price you pay for all this wonderful food, prepared by the grassroots chefs sittings in this room.

I’ll be brief, but count yourselves lucky that you are sitting down. I once represented Radical Women at an International Indian Treat Council meeting on the Columbia River. At the closing dinner, we all stood—about 80 of us—until every dish had been served to every plate by the cooks. Believe me, waiting like that increases your appetite and your anticipation, and gives you time to think about the meaning of what is being set before you.

We all know that Columbus and the Pilgrims got everything wrong when they landed on these shores and that quite a bit of racist propaganda surrounds Thanksgiving. Columbus didn’t land in India and the people of this hemisphere were not godless folk in need of the “blessings” of conquest: Catholicism, slavery, the Inquisition, witch-burnings, genocide, rape, etc. to be set straight.

In fact, the indigenous people of this hemisphere were 30 million strong and born of a race of brilliant scientists and astronomers, architects and builders. They were orators, poets, farmers, fishers, weavers, jewelry-makers, creators of political institutions and social orders that lasted hundreds or thousands of years. They created the League of the Iroquois which Ben Franklin and others at the constitutional convention looked to as a model of democracy that could bring together the colonies into a federated whole. They invented countless herbal medicines, domesticated animals and cultivated thousands of varieties of plants.

At the time of the conquest, the indigenous people cultivated over 300 food crops which today are the basis of 3/5ths of what is eaten on our planet.

This is a most relevant fact to remember at Thanksgiving. When Columbus erroneously arrived here, the rest of the world was plagued by regular famines because the crops they depended on—grains in Europe, rice in Asia, and sorghum and millet in Africa—were vulnerable to bad weather, birds, and insects.

Lucky for the poor, underfed peasants of the rest of the world, the Incas had developed 3,000 varieties of potatoes over 4,000 years. They had a variety for every growing condition in Europe, Africa and Asia.

If you think about it, this is a very personal piece of information, since most of us are probably descended from peasants and wouldn’t be sitting here without the Incas humble, homely potato which brought an end to famines caused by crop failures. For instance, the French, who had suffered through 111 famines over four hundred years before the conquest, incorporated the potato into their diet and famine became a rare event.

Potatoes, corn and beans were miracle crops. They could be grown in any soil, required no milling, and on a regular basis provided more food, more nutrition and with less labor than any grain.

In short, Native Americans revolutionized the world. Crops and spices grown in our hemisphere were spread around the globe. Slave traders brought back foods and spices from our hemisphere to Africa. Spanish ships sailing from Acapulco to Manila, a Spanish colony, spread them to Asia. The Portuguese brought them from Brazil to their colonies in Africa, India and Southern China. Lucky for the Chinese, the humble sweet potato yields 3-4 times more food on the same amount of land as rice—and so famines were reduced.

I could go on and on until the food is cold and you are starving like the Pilgrims, but I better not.

I do have few more things to say.

Native Americans didn’t just create new varieties of food, they developed the technology for processing plants and animals by drying, grinding, adding lime or ashes, using acid to soften and preserve meat, tapping maple trees for syrup. Plains tribes even figured out how to extract oil from sunflower seeds. Mayans learned to produce chocolate from the cacao bean and Aztecs discovered vanilla in an orchid fruit that required months of heat and humidity to produce a wonderful aroma.

Imagine our world without all these wonderful discoveries and many more!

What would the Italians be without tomatoes and zucchini? The Thai, the Chinese and East Indians without hot peppers? The Hungarians and Czechs without paprika? Southern cooking without hominy and grits? Boston without baked beans? New England without the clam bake? Germans without chocolate cake? West Africans without peanuts? The Irish without potatoes? Seattle without smoked salmon? Or turkey without cranberries? And the national debt without zeros (a Mayan invention!).

We can thank the Native Americans for all this and much more! But words, once a year are not enough.

Today multinational corporations are searching the globe for new plants whose genes can be patented and sold and for natural resources to be exploited. In the process they are destroying the biological diversity upon which we all depend. Indigenous people are on the front lines of this war against the new conquistadors of free trade and we must be there with them.

While pushing indigenous farmers in Mexico off their land and onto the road in search of work in the U.S. as undocumented workers, these corporate conquistadors have the nerve to try and privatize the botanical legacy of indigenous people and criminalize them for not having documents. It is an outrage. We must always remember we are the recipients of so much from Native Americans—a land; the means to survive; proof that human society can exist on a cooperative basis—not on exploitation and profit; that society can be built around respect for women, children and elders; that it is possible to live sharing plenty instead of hoarding it, of giving instead of selling.

I read somewhere that the Quechua people of Bolivia do not have an equivalent of the English phrase “thank you” since their culture teaches that sharing is a requirement of life and that gratitude can only be shown in deeds not in words.

So while we share this wonderful food today let’s remember our duty to show our gratitude in deeds of solidarity, kindness, respect and giving to our working class sisters and brothers of all colors, but especially to the people on whose land we are standing.

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Thank you Guerry and Freedom Socialist Party

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