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Minerva Week 13: Friendsgiving, Sunrises and Redwoods

December 1, 2014

This week was about more than just class. It was my first Thanksgiving in the United States, and my second Thanksgiving this year (lucky me!). I was reminded of what we are trying to build at Minerva, and also how coming to terms with a new country and culture does not mean you have to eat everything that’s put on your plate.
The bird you’re looking at is a spatchcocked turkey, which was expertly roasted by JK, the head of the team that developed and is iterating the Minerva class software. He is an inspired cook, and we were treated to turkey three ways: roasted, broiled and en sous-vide. Almost the whole class, and a good portion of the Minerva staff, pitched in. We had three kinds of mashed potatoes, truffle and bacon Mac ‘n cheese, ginger and maple roasted veggies, fattoush (Middle-eastern salad), walnut-goat-cheese-cranberry-spinach salad, and hot mulled cider. Not to mention pumpkin, apple, and pudding pie for dessert, along with a bean-based sweet cake and the now infamous ‘slutty brownies’ (which scandalously have cheesecake batter mixed into them!).
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As you can tell, the meal was so darn SPECIAL! The table was decorated, the tea lights were twinkling (and mildly fire-hazards, as they almost caused some of the menus and plastic leaves to go up in smoke!). Besides the food, my favourite part was when we went around the table and everyone had a chance to say what they were thankful for. There were moments of roommate appreciation, education appreciation, and family appreciation. I was enveloped by gratitude in that warm room. We cleared the table and listened to a few musical numbers courtesy of several talented classmates. I read a story called “We found our Son in the Subway.” (A true story!)

At the end of the night, Ailen told everyone that she was going to get up at 4:30 am to go to the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz the next day. It took me about a minute to decide that I wanted to go to. So, only about 7 hours later, there we were, at the end of a four-block-long line to get on a ferry to the island in time for the sunrise. When Alcatraz stopped being a prison, there was a time where it wasn’t really used for anything. In 1969, a group of Indigenous American activists lay claim to the land, attempting to protest the loss of their ancestral lands and the decimation of their culture at the hands of the settlers. You can still see their spray painted slogans on some of the buildings today. The occupation lasted for almost two years. The Sunrise ceremony seeks to honour this occupation and to advance its spirit – celebrating the strength of Indigenous Peoples and remembering their troubled history.

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We arrived at the island just as the sun was starting to rise. The city looked pink in the early light. Already, there was a crowd of hundreds gathered at the edge of a circle. There was a large fire in the middle. People were walking with buckets of smoking incense.


There were many speeches, but one of the speakers was broken, and it happened to be the one that was facing us, so I didn’t hear anything of what was being said. “How sad,” I thought, “that these people are trying to talk, trying to explain about the struggles of their people and no one can hear them.” Then, the talking stopped and the drumming began. Seventy proud dancers, children, women, and men, filed into the centre of the circle. Their heads were crowned with long feathers that brushed my cheeks as they passed by. They were wearing colourful, intricate costumes. Many had conch shells that they blew into like trumpets. Many were wearing large beads or shells on their shins that rattled as they walked. Then, they all started dancing, in unison.

Image from last year’s sunrise ceremony, reproduced from “Over 3500 People Attend Indigenous Peoples Annual Sunrise Gathering” by Dan Bacher of IndyBay.

I was overcome with emotion. Their movements, colours, and sounds were so beautiful. They were so obviously human, and so deeply human. How, then, could their ancestors have been treated like animals, swindled, land stolen, betrayed and manipulated, by other human beings? Why do we do things like this? Why do we convince ourselves that we matter and others do not?


We headed back to the city. I felt as if we were journeying back to another world. The busiest shopping event of the year was upon us. People were going to go out in droves and buy things that they didn’t need, some of which were probably made by people in factories scraping to get by, and made from resources that are going to run out eventually, leaving our grandchildren in real want. Historical injustice and ill-treatment I had thought of in the abstract on Alcatraz suddenly seemed very real.

I did not shop. Instead, I went camping in Big Basin with five other Minervans. The trip was organized by Ian, leader of MORE (Minerva Outdoor Recreation and Exploration, one of Minerva’s clubs). We enjoyed the silence of the forest, the mist catching the light between the trees, and the pouring rain (well, that last one, not so much!). We saw a banana slug, a raven, and a wily family of raccoons. We took an astonishing amount of public transportation (boo! to being too young to rent a car at normal rates). It was a perfect first Thanksgiving. I experienced things old, new and eternal. I am so grateful to be here, and grateful to you, dear reader, for sharing in my journey.
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Image of Berry Creek Falls taken from Urban Diversion

Courtesy of Sam MacMinnis of the Sacramento Bee

Take care,

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