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After the Turkey: Giving Thanks Every Day

For indigenous people, Thanksgiving was a painful reminder of how past governments have dealt with their communities. But the season can also be a moment of hopeful reflection about the future.

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The following interview was edited for brevity.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and where your people are from?

My name is Tina Orduno Calderon. I am Gabrielino-Tongva as well as Ventureño-Chumash. My ancestral village is Komiikrange, which is in the shared territory of the Chumash and the Tongva in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

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Tina Calderon, at her home, in traditional regalia.

What is the current state of indigenous people today?

It’s an interesting time  because we’re so split. We have those that are living on reservations that [have] limited [access] to resources – even the important things like clean water and education. And then you have those of us who have no land base – whose  treaties were never ratified. And so we are just fighting to keep our sacred lands and to have a place where we could honor our ancestors. I mean, we do that every single day as we wake up, but it’s different to actually have a place to have ceremony and honor them with the ways that they used to gather and have ceremony. So it’s a very difficult time.

What does Thanksgiving get wrong? Does it help further racist narratives?

Thanksgiving is a very tough time because [we] have a really horrible history and it’s unknown. Thanksgiving really is so romanticized, so a lot of people refuse to celebrate and you can’t blame them. For my people, it was a different experience — Thanksgiving was more a harvest time and a special time for us. So I feel like it’s most important not so much to not celebrate but to not celebrate in the colonial way of thinking. 

Tina sharing stories and songs at Acton/Agua Dulce Public Library for Redbird's Songs and Stories of Native America event.

In what ways is your community pushing back on some of these narratives?

I think it’s a good time as far as awareness. A lot of people are coming together to practice the ways of our ancestors as far as caretaking for the lands, and there’s a big resurgence, I guess, of even non-native peoples joining because of the climate issues. And along with that comes our cultural regeneration. Because now these non-native people are looking at things the way we did all along for thousands and thousands of years, here on these lands, and they are wanting us to share our culture. So it’s no longer swept under the rug. We are no longer invisible. We actually can speak about our traditions, our beliefs. We can share our stories, our songs. It’s no longer something to do underground.  I think our ancestors are smiling.

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Tina at Veterans Park in Sylmar, CA.

What would you like to see in the future in regards to how your community is engaged in making change?

It is wonderful that people are starting to acknowledge the original peoples of the area before they gather on our lands, and they are asking us if maybe we can come and open it up in a good way with prayer, but I think it needs to go beyond that. I think we need to start creating relationships to start inviting the native people to the table well in advance. When you’re first thinking about putting on an event, bring the native people to the table and let them help you to organize it.

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Tina, Joe and Honor Calderon singing at Satwiwa Native American 
Cultural Center in Newbury Park. 

What are your hopes for the future?

I do want to end this interview with my hopes for the future because I see that the youth are stepping up and doing the right things. I see these youth educating themselves, doing the right thing, taking action if they have to. I stand behind them and I have hope for the future when I look at the youth and so I just want to say, “Continue to do what you’re doing.”

Photos and interview by: Isabel Avila

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