Thanksgiving on the Rez

     I lived on the Tohono O’odham reservation for six years, teaching kids, and lived just off the rez teaching San Carlos Apaches for another year, so every year I write a Thanksgiving column for my good luck.
     Thank you, my Indian friends, for not asking the white people for identification. Maybe you should have.
     The O’odham and the Apaches were ancient enemies.
     The Apaches were raiders and the O’odham were farmers.
     They’d been fighting for centuries.
     So the first time the white men in blue coats showed up in O’odham land and asked the O’odham if they could help fight Apaches, the O’odham said, “Follow us.”
     That was not even two centuries before I got there.
     Lots of things were starting to happen on the rez in my time. Drugs, mainly. It got pretty ugly pretty fast. I won’t go into that because this story happened before then. Just barely before then. And I don’t want to talk about bad things today. I want to tell you the funniest thing I ever heard on the rez.
     No one else saw the humor in it that Thanksgiving day, but I’ve always remembered it.
     My favorite student had invited me to Thanksgiving dinner at her house. It was a late-traditional house, with a dirt floor and walls made of adobe reinforced with cactus ribs. Saints stood on shelves in the corners. Chickens chased one another around the house, and on the back porch under the huato, dinner cooked in the open air.
     Little kids ran around chasing chickens and little dogs.
     Over it all my favorite student’s mom reigned supreme, keeping everything in order, everything quiet. She had relatives in quite a few tribes, on both sides of the border. Spoke quite a few languages. I’ll bet you couldn’t find an anthropologist who spoke all the languages she did.
     We talked about this and that – mostly about my student’s classmates.
     It was a small town. That’s what people talk about in a small town.
     I found out that one of the few white kids on the rez, a student of mine, was dating So and So, an Indian girl.
     The white guy’s father lived on the rez because he was a Protestant minister. Well, who else could his son ask for a date?
     So, as we talked about this and that, and the chickens chased one another across the floor, and Thanksgiving dinner cooked outside, my favorite student’s mom pressed her lips together primly and said, “That’s not right. A Protestant dating a Catholic girl.”
     Happy Thanksgiving.

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