Giving Thanks to Indigenous People Throughout the world, indigenous people continue to face discrimination.

Thanksgiving provides us once again with an opportunity to introspect and appreciate our blessings. But for many Native Americans, the day is a reminder of all the slaughter, destruction and loss of lands inflicted on them by outsiders, starting with the pilgrims arriving in Massachusetts some 400 years ago.

The plights of indigenous people in other places are, in many ways, similar with those in the Americas. To this day, they still face challenges every day.

According to Amnesty International, 370 million indigenous people across the world constitute about 5% of the global population, living in more than 90 countries and speaking over 4,000 languages. Wherever they live, they often face discrimination, oppression, exploitation, eviction and other human rights abuses. As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has particularly impacted them due to poverty, lack of clean water and access to health services.

In much of the world, indigenous people suffer from high unemployment, poor education and domestic violence. They are often targeted for mistreatment and abuse and have the least access to health services compared with other groups. They are usually imprisoned disproportionately and some die in custody.

Around the World

In Australia, indigenous people constitute around 3% of the population, but they form more than a quarter of the prison population. Their children are 17 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous children.

In the Americas, indigenous people are subjected to discrimination, harassment and violence, particularly in countries like ArgentinaChile, Paraguay and Nicaragua, among others. They may also face unsubstantiated charges that include sabotage, terrorism and murder and are particularly, vulnerable to human trafficking. In Argentina, indigenous people are further deprived of their rights to ancestral lands. In Paraguay, they continue being evicted and denied their lands. In Peru, the killers of indigenous people are often not brought to justice.

Similarly, Canada and the United States have discriminated, mistreated and manipulated their indigenous people. Both of these nations have exploited and mismanaged the assets of the native population. Canada has continued oppressing its indigenous people, confiscating their lands and eliminating their cultures.

In June, more than 600 unmarked graves were discovered in Canada at a Catholic-run school for indigenous children that operated from 1899 to 1997. This followed a previous report of 215 bodies at another Catholic school that was open from the late 19th century to 1969.

The Contributions of Native Americans

The contributions of indigenous peoples to the world are countless. Native Americans alone brought us many plants from beans and peanuts to pineapple and herbal medicines. They also greatly contributed to our democracy, inspiring the Founding Fathers in fashioning the US government. The Six Nations, known by the French as the Iroquois, provided a great example of participatory democracy where the government was truly founded on the consent of the governed.

The delegates from the 13 English colonies were inspired by the Native Americans who were endowed with a rich heritage over thousands of years that included counseling among the elders in the affairs of the tribes. As early as 1744, Canasatego, the Iroquois Confederation’s spokesman, advised the colonists on how to form a union in order to become a powerful confederation. The colonists listened to his advice in forming what became the United States of America.  

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter inspiring the 13 colonies to follow the Iroquois Confederacy in forming a union. John Hancock, speaking on behalf of the 1775 Continental Congress, expressed it well when he said “the Six Nations are wise people. Let us harken to their Council and teach our children to follow it.” In 1988, the US Senate finally paid tribute to the Native Americans by saying that the “confederation of the original Thirteen Colonies into one republic was inuenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.”

Giving Thanks

Those who live in democracies today, including the United States, owe a lot to Native Americans for their freedom. Indigenous peoples have served us well and deserve to be treated with respect, provided with the same opportunities and appreciated for their contributions to the world. We should work to ensure they have equal rights where they live and raise them out of poverty, enabling them to have access to clean water, hygiene and health services.

In the US, let us make this Thanksgiving Day special by embracing our Native Americans, paving the way to remedy some of their wounds. As Amnesty International recommends, we should follow other countries in the Americas by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in recognition of their contributions to the United States of America.

By Mehdi Alavi

*[Dr. Mehdi Alavi is the founder and president of Peace Worldwide Organization, a non-religious, non-partisan and charitable organization in the United States that promotes freedom and peace for all. It recently released its Civility Report 2021, which can be downloaded here.]

This article was originally published on Fair Observer on November 24, 2021.