For the past three years now our family has celebrated the traditional Thanksgiving day a little differently than most of the nation. We are gathering to give special thanks and feasting as a family today, Friday, the day after the traditional holiday. Monica and I along with Narieka and Brahm, (who are home from college), will gather late this afternoon to give thanks and celebrate. We will facetime with our oldest daughter Aiyana, who is with friends in California at the moment. Though we are sad that she is not with us to feast, we are incredibly proud of her and her vision, which is connected to this story… Before Aiyana left to drive out west, she gathered donations of clothing and camping gear that she dropped on route to warriors for the Earth, “The Guardians of the Water”, that are staging protest & resistance at Standing Rock . She spent a few days at Standing Rock, helping cook food and tending to children. She said it was one of the most incredible experiences of her life.
As an artist and an art educator my whole life, I have always taught that the basics of all art, (and life), is about relationships and connections, seeing the connections, and communication – and that the greatest of all works of art that we can create, is how we choose to paint our life. One of my greatest teachers in this regard, one of the greatest artists I know, though she is not a painter, is my wife Monica. She has always regarded relationship, connection, truth and kindness as the highest priority. To that end throughout our life together, she has always brought me and our children into connection with teachers, artists and situations, etc. that foster that reality. It was Monica that had brought our kids that first time, (I was in Mexico), to Plymouth, MA to show support for the National Day of Morning, (it was her sister Maura, that shared with her the event). Please don’t misinterpret me, we have nothing against the fundamental idea of a day of thanks being set aside for family and friends to gather together and celebrate life’s blessings, (we try to do this daily), In fact we think it is great and celebrate everyone doing so! But in light of our awareness and in trying to educate ourselves and our children in social justice and living in respect for the earth and all its’ creatures, we felt impelled to join the Indigenous American People, (and those throughout the world) in solidarity of protesting a myth that has been perpetuated by American culture at their expense and ultimately the expense of all people and the Earth. And certainly, with the current situation taking place at Standing Rock and what we experienced here in MA these past years fighting corporate greed trying to lay pipeline HERE In ASHFIELD and other areas of MA, (Yes folks, it can happen in your backyard as well! – see more on this below and the video of me speaking out at the hearing in Greenfield, MA this past March), we felt it even more important to attend this year.
As I am sure you are aware, as an artist, you cannot make a mark, change a color or shape on the canvas, without it effecting the whole canvas. And similarly, we cannot create an action or belief system in the world without it effecting the world around us. One of the biggest myths of western civilization is that we are all independent of and separate, from one another and as human beings – separate from the Earth, creation-environment around us. Of course this fundamental spin on reality has been perpetuated throughout history for a definite selfish purpose – if we are lulled into the belief that we are separate from the earth and all that is dependent on it, (including various races of peoples, etc), then it is very easy to justify domination and exploitation, and ultimately destruction, (thus you can pretend that science does not exist, there is no climate change and people that are “different” from you have less rights).
The gathering in Plymouth MA, that this year had approximately 1,000 attendees, began near Coles Hill, where in 1970 Frank James, a Wampanoag leader was barred from delivering a speech about the truth of his people and left in protest a ceremony celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrims arrival.
A plaque at Coles Hill now reads: “Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”
In the midst of this gathering were great speeches on truth, unity and consciousness and a march with chants to petition President Obama to pardon Native American Activist Leonard Peltier as well as chants that though seem to be effecting only those far away, (Standing Rock Reservation) effect all of us. People reverberated -“You can’t drink oil!” and “WATER IS LIFE!”. The message is very close to home, where we had been fighting corporate greed wanting to bring a pipeline through MA for fracked gas. Though we had succeeded in cutting off it’s head here in MA, much like the many headed mythical Hydra, the serpent of corporate greed, sprouts its’ head elsewhere.
But unlike Standing Rock, I believe one of the reasons we were successful, (at least for the time being), is that the majority of those opposed to the pipeline in MA are white, middle class land owners, activists and farmers and Standing Rock is meeting even heavier attack is it is a Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation and the U.S. has a notorious 400+ year history of abuse and destruction, not only of Native American rights, (breaking every treaty ever signed with native peoples), but a systematic obliteration of their culture as well. The use of Extreme Force by the U.S. government against Native peoples perpetuates from the past to the present. In this fight at Standing Rock, it also appears that the “President Elect”, Mr. Trump has a personal investment in Energy Transfer Systems – the folks behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, (a bit of a conflict of interest for a President?!).
As many of the native speakers mentioned at the gathering, it is up to each of us -We The People – to fight – not for a particular race or ethnic group, not for a particular religion, not for a political party, Democrat, Republican, whatever, not for a nation or any other made up category of words and divisions supporting the illusion of separateness – but it is all of our duty to fight for the Earth!
Watch the video of Artist Robert Masla raising his voice among dozens of concerned citizens at DPU Hearings, in March of this year in Greenfield, MA, to Stop the Pipeline,
“We Are All Connected”
Read this from NPR on Standing Rock