By | Rachel Brooks
November 26, 2020
Op-Ed Thanksgiving Day, 2020
Images by Rachel Brooks, created July 2020.
Featured above. An ancient mound of the First Peoples of Ohio found behind a tiny museum in rural Ohio stands as enduring testament to the deep roots of First People’s society in modern America.
Thanksgiving Day is observed today in the United States. The American public also recognizes this day as a day to remember the brutal history of ethnic cleansing within the United States. As a holiday, Thanksgiving Day has elicited controversy due to the fact that Thanksgiving as a federally observed holiday was inspired by the Woodland American tribes and their efforts to help European settlers survive their first winters in the North American colonies. Despite this fact, the years that followed this initial settlement were riddled with massacres, ethnic cleansing, and forced European assimilation by the new settlers upon the society that had welcomed them to the Continent.
The origins of Thanksgiving Day are recorded by History.
Remembering the Native American heritage of the United States, on this day of all days, is essential to preserving the virtues of the American people. It is critical to acknowledge where the American people became one with their expatriated continent. Divided over race, the history of violence and contempt has reflected upon the modern American. Riots ensued in 2020 over police brutality. Cities burned in the heat of that rage. Under the dust of all ire, the memory of the First People remained. Their heritage, their council fires, their world vision, how it birthed the dream of America. How they as nations inspired the roots of all modern western governance, without thanks.
If we owe thanks as a nation, then we owe it to the Native Americans. We owe it to them for the survival of the expatriated Old World. It is their influence, their world building that pioneered this continent, and no invention of our device. Later comers built upon what legacy they gave. Some of them repaid them with great violence, a fact that must not be forgotten.
On this day, called the National Day of Mourning among some American demographics, we must remember the First Peoples, and give them both tribute and thanks. We must remember them beyond the dark history of erasure and ethnic purge that they are associated with. They are remembered for their sorrows. Let them now also be remembered for their triumph, the cities they built that fell into silence, the great relics they have left to immortalize their legacy.
There is a tiny township outside of Dayton, Ohio. The place is called Oregonia. The swath of trees closed around the old stoneworks, with towering black oaks that have cracked in half for the weight of their mass. The place is out of the way and tranquil, forgotten by the press of progress in bursting Cincinnati where roads are reconstructed. Yet there, standing resolute among the trees, as much a sacred monument as the Statue of Liberty, are the remains of the Adena Hopewell culture.
This shallow forest monument has received some muted praise. It was once documented in the pages of Harper’s Weekly, in the 19th century. It was deemed a national park. The national press of more recent decades has touched on it every now and then, as the National Geographic glanced over it once in their publications. This sacred place is called “Fort Ancient”__a graveyard for the equivalnet of kings.
During the days when the caesars were remembered for their Roman Empire, a great society lived among what is now the Greater Miami River region. In the forest of modern-day Ohio, the Adena and the Hopewell were a nation of great builders. Further north from the small circle of graves in Oregonia, stands the great Serpent Mound of Chillicothe.
They are only vaguely understood. One day, they were said to have been conquered by or assimilated with the Iroquois people, a confederation of tribes now referred to as Woodland Indigenous Americans. The Adena lived from 500 B.C. to 100 AD. They occupied what is now known as Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and potentially Pennsylvania. Adena people’s true names are not known by modern Americans for certain. They are called Adena after an early governor of Ohio, who lived in the Chillicothe area, where the great Serpent Mound is located.
The Adena lived similar lives to the ancients of Europe. They lived in circular houses with cone-shaped roofs. The beams and poles of their structures were made from willows and bark. Some also lived in stone shelters similar in make. Adena, as observed from the care they gave to the burial of their kings and well-respected leaders, were masters of stonework.
At the site in Oregonia, small circles of stones that have been there for thousands of years can still be seen at the foot of the trees. Multiple burial mounds stick out among the residential buildings and the museum that has since been built to mark the site as a national preserve, a small building that has a backyard consisting of a miniature recreation of what an “Adena” city might have looked like. Adena were farmers, with stone axes and hoes.
They hunted with arrows, smoked pipes, and ate from simple pottery. Clay and stone pipes were ornate, shaped in the image of the gods they worshiped. They made ornaments out of copper, mica, and seashells. They were believed to have established trade with faraway peoples, though it is not clear if they had watercraft. “Adena” were not a single tribe, but are believed to have been confederations of different tribes living in an organized society. Much like their Mayan and Aztecan counterparts in South America, the Adena made intricate stone tablets depicting the characters of their poorly understood religion. A brief history of their culture can be found via Britannica.
For a time, they were forgotten. The early United States told a story that the Adena people were some foreign settlement that came before them, with racial prejudice dictating that there was no way so great an American society could have come before the federal society they had built. Yet, as the earthworks and artifacts of their lives were observed with greater attention, the same patterns of these ancient Americans were observed in the lives and culture of the Woodland Americans that Europeans first came in contact with.
In the shadow of the massacres that followed, the infamous Wounded Knee, and the not-so-well documented Sand Creek, we hear the blood cry from the ground, we feel the ghosts speaking to us. Do we listen? Do we remember only the gore and the bloodshed, do we remember only the injustices, and fail to dignify and elevate the descendants that remain to an equal place in our society? Do we give thanks without giving thanks for the Continent that they braved, the wild and strange place that they made sense of, long before ever the feet of European people touched this soil?
We cannot pass this day without bringing them back to life, if only for a moment. We cannot pass this day without a nod to the mound of the kings, to the mystic sanctity of the heritage of the people who came first in this country. There would be no United States without the First People who first taught the “civilized” world of streets and carriages, and cotton clothing, how to carve a life from the wildlands of the treacherous beauty that came to be called “America.”
Marcia K. Moore and anthropologists have worked together to bring them back to life, if only in images. Ancient Origins published the likeness of Adena-Hopewell era people. They were not so unlike the ancestors of the Europeans, wearing jewelry made from deer antlers, with their women dressed in bracelets of copper and beads.
Today, the great people of Ancient America have many surviving descendants. They are of various tribal backgrounds, with customs, and religions, and histories unique to each nation and tongue. They are as diverse as the United States is, as diverse as it was, and yet they are all similar in some ways. They are American born first, a guiding light to what we were meant to be. They believed that the earth belonged to no one, that it was sacred, to be protected.
This year, in September, the U.S. government said a few words about the repatriation of Native American remains that were sold as artifacts. Operation Lady Justice, over the course of the Donald Trump presidential administration, attempted to instigate a more direct responsibility for the unprecedented rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, especially women and girls. The Indigenous Americans are still fighting to be recognized by the new society_ even after surviving the bloody history of ethnic cleansing through the Trail of Tears, and the massacres that followed the wars on tribal lands before, during, and after the U.S. Civil War. Yet, under the surface, peppering every small-town U.S. they are the foundation, the rafter, the beams, and the stones of the society.
For America to be “great again” it must remember what made it great. It must honor the true tamers of the wildlands, the true builders of western civilization. America must honor its ancient origins with dignity before shock and awe, and elevate the Native American to the forefront equal face of the society once again, or the soul of this nation will never find peace.