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We confront racism and oppression wherever we encounter it.
We try to make connections with all the "isms" that make up western culture.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
November 20, 2012
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
In celebration of a Native American Thanksgiving
Welcome to New Freeway Hall’s 2010 Thanksgiving
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
to the Freedom Socialist by postal mail, email, or audio CD, visit here or send $10 for one year or $17 for two to
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