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UAII’s Annual 2019 Thanksgiving Community Feed



UAII’s Annual 2019 Community Feed was a huge success. It took place on Thursday, November 21st in the UAII Community Room, providing a warm, welcoming environment for all, and inspiring joy, togetherness, and spiritual renewal for young and old alike.


Scrumptious homemade food was the focus. “Food is the glue that keeps us together,” said an enthusiastic community member enjoying a meal complete with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, fresh bread, and buttered corn. “I love seeing our families come together and enjoy a meal here at UAII, because some of us can’t get a homecooked meal.”

Eugene Martinez, Interim CEO and previous Chief Operating Officer of UAII took a short break from serving the meal. “This is such a great opportunity for our community and staff to come together,” he said. “Our staff forms a Thanksgiving Committee, learning from previous years, taking shifts, and supporting each other in the background.”


Martinez continued, “There is so much planning that happens for an event like this. Joseph (Quintana, UAII Director of Development) worked with Morongo and got us 100 turkeys – we were able to give out close to 80 turkeys to the families in our community. It’s just incredible. I’m so thankful to see all of our Elders here today. I’m so thankful for it all.”


Liz Wieland, MSW, staff therapist at UAII, looked forward to the event. “I love to cook,” she said. “Today I made a 15-pound sweet potato casserole. I love to see everybody have a good time because in the work that I do, I help people work through their pain and suffering and find meaning. Hopefully this lunch will be something people will always remember… At this event, our clients are getting served. Someone is taking care of them.”


Thomas Sills (Bishop Paiute), UAII Workforce Development Specialist and recent graduate of UCLA, was overjoyed. “It’s super-exciting,” he said. “I’m a recent hire to UAII, so it’s amazing to see the community get together. I didn’t expect to see this many people here!”


Soyinka Allen, UAII Workforce Development Specialist, was beaming: “I just got two work placements today – two of my clients got jobs, and that brings my total up to nine and we’re probably at a total of around 25 or 30 work placements in the department. We’re getting a lot of traction and more people are learning about us for the first time.”


Ramon Enriquez, UAII Director of Youth Services, the American Indian Clubhouse, Central High School UAII Branch, and the Robert Sundance Summer Camp, was busy handing out bags of fresh bread for community members to take home. “We do this once a year,” he said. “For me, working with the kids, they grow so much – it seems like 3 inches every time I see them! It’s so good to see the families. They might be in the school, they might be in the Clubhouse, Grandma might be in sewing circle – we get to know the whole family here at UAII.”


Eddie Hummingbird, Staff Transporter for UAII, shared Enriquez’s sentiments. “I love working here,” he said. “It’s like a family.”


One prominent UAII Elder, Andy Jones (Tohono O’odham), described his view of the original Thanksgiving feast. “I think events like this at UAII are very important,” he said. “But in the 60s and 70s, Thanksgiving was a day of mourning. Many of us would put black sheets on the wall; a black piece of cloth with flowers on it – a sign of our mourning. Because the people that helped the Pilgrims, 20-years later, they were killed for the expansion of land. The idea of Thanksgiving was introduced by the Natives. This is not taught in history books.”


Jones continued, “After the Pilgrim’s first winter here, the Natives saw what happened to them and they felt sorry for them. So, they came to them and showed them how to plant crops, how to use fish heads for fertilizer, and taught them about the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash). Then, in the fall, after the harvest, the Natives told the Pilgrims that they should thank God; they should gather together and have a feast to thank God for the first crops. The Natives brought deer, pheasant, and wild rice to share with the Pilgrims. None of this was the Pilgrims’ idea; it was the Natives’ idea. Then, 20 years later, the Pilgrims killed them. Why? The White men had based their lives on greed.”


He concluded with a hopeful message: “Our natural way is to share. I always tell our youth what the first Thanksgiving really was, but most of us no longer consider it a day of mourning. UAII has now turned it into a day of sharing – the way it used to be.”


Photos from the UAII Community Feed, courtesy of UAII’s own Nolan Eskeets:












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