EMAIL INTERVIEW with Dr. Mario Garza, Indigenous Cultures Institute
1. What do you think about the way that Thanksgiving is currently portrayed?
The current Thanksgiving is a romanticized notion that attempts to portray the European invaders and Native people as friends. While many Native tribes welcomed the Europeans when they initially arrived, this situation quickly deteriorated as the invaders began killing and displacing Native people. By celebrating one small incident of which details have been distorted or misinterpreted, this nation is overlooking hundreds of years of death, rape, destruction, and ongoing colonization by European invaders. Most Native people we know believe in giving thanks every single day; so for many of us, every day is a day of thanksgiving.
2. Are there any contributions that Native Americans (Wampanoag) gave the White people that are still in play today? Currently during Thanksgiving meal Turkey, Pumpkin pie, Cranberry are used, did the Wampanoag and White Pilgrims have such dinner?
We are not experts regarding the Wampanoag tribe. We do provide a general lecture about the contributions of Native Americans which includes thousands of references. To name a few: Over 70% of the food consumed today was originally cultivated by Native people in the Americas; chemical electricity was used by the Moche and other Peruvian tribes hundreds of years before Ben Franklin “discovered” electricity; the Olmecs invented a projection device that cast images much like the modern day projectors; the Inca people had an information device – quipas - that recorded data much like a computer, with knot/no-knot (on/off, zero/one) as its operating system; Meso-Americans genetically engineered corn; aqueducts were used in the Americas hundreds of years before the Europeans claim to have used them. This book provides much more on this topic: Keoke, Emory Dean and Kay Marie Porterfield. 2002. Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations. New York: Facts on File, Inc.
3. Did the first White settlers do any damage to the Native American land?
We have not researched initial land damage done by the Europeans. Current land damage is well documented and includes mining, damming rivers, deforestation, and other horrendous acts that are desecrating sacred lands and displacing or killing Native people.
4. Did the Native Americans think that the English invasion was a sign of their end?
It is a mistake to lump all Native Americans into one group, as there were, and still are, hundreds of tribes and bands, each with their own way of life, spiritual beliefs, traditions, and cultures – many differences. But it is safe to say that at some point during the Europeans’ (English, Spanish, French, etc.) invasion, most Native tribes were well aware of the disastrous results.
5. Do you think that if the Native Americans ultimately rise up against the White settlers will the White people go back?
Look at South Africa and the apartheid situation, as an example of how people deal with invaders and occupiers who are a minority race. Soon, within the next 100 years, the people currently labeled “Hispanic/Latino/Mexican American” who have strong lines of Native American heritage, will be the majority in the U.S. These Native people have an obligation to bring an era of peace and justice to this country that will stand as an example of a different world view. The traditional Native world view is one of community, respect, and balance with Mother Earth.
6. The first thanksgiving holiday was declared as celebration of overcoming and slaughter of 700 unarmed men, women and children. Many more followed after that after each massacre. So don’t you think the Thanksgiving now is a celebration of continual Native American genocide?
It is important that we begin to undo the language and concepts of colonization, so that Native people can be restored to dignity and balance. By finally acknowledging that the first Thanksgiving was actually the “beginning of the end” for Native people, we would be taking that first step towards healing.
7. As students of history what advise you have so that we learn our history better, accurately?
Be aware that history books do not always provide correct information. You must learn to research the authors, their sources, and the changing information that comes from new research – and question everything. For example, for years archeologists said that Native Americans came to the Americas over the Bering Strait, some 10,000 years ago when there was a land bridge from Asia. New evidence, however, proves that Native People were here much farther back, so far back that there was no land bridge at that time. So Native People could not have come to the America’s from Asia. But you will still see history books that say we came over the Bering Strait – these have not been corrected. Seek authentic sources!
8. Please tell me about yourself and what your organization does to help preserve Native American culture and ways of life.
Mario Garza, Ph.D. – BIO:
Dr. Mario Garza currently serves as board of directors’ chair and executive director, and is the principal founder of the Institute. He is a member of the Meakan/Garzas band of the Coahuiltecan people.
Dr. Garza earned a multidisciplinary Ph.D. from Michigan State University in Social Science, with areas of concentration in Sociology, Political Science and Social Work. He has taught classes at Michigan State University, Lansing Community College and Austin Community College, and has lectured at Texas State University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and other educational institutions and community forums.
He has been active in graves protection and repatriation since 1991 participating in reburial ceremonies at the Comanche Cemetery in Fort Hood, Texas including two Coahuiltecan reburials. In November 27, 1999, Dr. Garza participated in the preparation of over two-hundred remains that were repatriated back to Mission San Juan Capistrano cemetery in San Antonio, Texas – the largest repatriation ceremony in Texas conducted by a non-Bureau of Indian Affairs-recognized group.
Dr. Garza served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the 1/616th Medical Clearing Company, 44th Medical Brigade, U. S. Army. He currently lives in San Marcos, Texas near the sacred springs that archeologists believe to be the oldest, continuously inhabited site in North America.
Indigenous Cultures Institute:
More than 200 Native American groups were populating what is now central and southern Texas and northeastern Mexico when the Spanish invaders first arrived. Some historians erroneously report that these bands "disappeared". The Indigenous Cultures Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and preservation of the culture, arts, traditions, ceremonies, and languages of this population, collectively known as Coahuiltecans.
The Institute presents educational programs on the identity and ancestral legacy of these Native Americans who have millions of descendants― currently labeled Mexican American, Latino, or Hispanic―still living in Texas and the U.S. Many of these descendants continue to practice their indigenous ceremonies, pray in their Native languages, and hold true to the values of their ancestors.
The Institute also strives to maintain our covenant with sacred sites. We partner with local community organizations and support groups outside of our area that are dedicated to preserving the natural environment of sites that indigenous people consider sacred. The San Marcos, Texas, Sacred Springs area is such a site, and we are committed to its protection and preservation.