Thanksgiving 2020: A Cornucopia of Emotion

Given that Thanksgiving, by its very name, is a holiday centered on gratitude, where does that leave us in the American Indian community this year?

Many of us already approach Thanksgiving with levels of dismay tied to longstanding holiday origin myths and its role as a reminder of the legacy of colonization’s genocide, land theft and an assault on culture. This year, we’re dealing with even more, as individuals, families and communities. Simply put, 2020’s global pandemic, police brutality, civil unrest and election disputes have highlighted stubborn disparities that continue to impact our lives … yet they also have shined a spotlight on our progress and resilience.

Disparities Abound

Health – American Indians have the highest rates for COVID-19 deaths in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health statistics through Nov. 18. The department also notes that “of all Indigenous individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, 15 percent are hospitalized, the highest rate of any of the race groups with data collected.”

Nationally, more than 2,200 Indigenous people have died of COVID-19, according to a report this month from the APM Research Lab, which notes that Indigenous people are 3.2 times more likely to die from COVID than whites.

A few other statistics highlight continued challenges facing our communities:

  • Housing – While less than 2 percent of Minnesota’s population is Indigenous, nearly one in four of those experiencing homelessness are Indigenous.
  • Employment – The number of American Indians filing for unemployment in October 2020 was triple the number the same time a year ago, according the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
  • Education – The achievement gap for American Indian students in Minnesota remains significant, with just 31 percent of fourth graders deemed proficient in reading and 25 percent of eighth graders proficient in math. In 2019, the high school graduation rate for American Indians was about 50 percent, compared with a statewide average of about 84 percent for all students.

Still, We Rise

It’s hard to be thankful when confronted with the statistics above, but we will pause this week to appreciate the work that is being done by so many to make progress: Teachers. Healthcare workers. Faith leaders. Community Activists. Elders. Veterans. Volunteers. The list is long, and we are honored to play a role in these efforts.

In 2020, American Indian OIC started its fifth decade of helping hundreds of students and clients learn, grow and find careers through individualized support. We are thankful for their trust.

In 2020, American Indian OIC opened its doors to Migizi after its beautiful new home was destroyed by fire during the Uprising last summer. We are thankful for partners who share our passion for preparing young people for a brighter tomorrow.

In 2020, American Indian OIC hosted several Get-Out-the-Vote events, including a powerful session that featured American Indian Movement escorts to the polls. Voter participation this year in Minnesota jumped an average of nearly 20 percent in areas with high Native populations, with some areas – precincts around Red Lake – approaching a 50 percent increase. Mary Kunesh-Podein, of Standing Rock Lakota descent, will become the first Native woman to serve in the Minnesota Senate, while Yankton Sioux Tribe member Heather Keeler of Moorhead will join Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, in the House. Nationally, the Native vote proved crucial in states such as Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan, and a record-breaking six American Indian candidates were elected to Congress in 2020. We are thankful for those who believe in democracy and the power of the ballot box to move us toward our nation’s ideals.

So, all in all, 2020 has been a tough, painful year, yet we are thankful. We are resilient. It’s how we roll.

Happy Thanksgiving.