This Land is Whose Land?

This unattributed meme about sums it up.

This famous song by Woody Guthrie recently popped into my head . It’s a catchy tune that I liked it as a child before I learned that much of US history, which parallels that of my family history, including the good, the bad, and the ugly, has been one colossal land grab “from California to the New York island.” On the surface, this is an uplifting song about inclusion and equality, but assumes the listener knows little to nothing about US history.

Sing it with me (and Woody)!

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me
As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
And saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me, a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling
In the wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me

This land is your land and this land is my land
From the California to the New York island
From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling
In wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
The voice come chanting as the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me

Of course, if you know your (US) history, you know that “this land” belonged to Native Americans who called it home for millennia before my ancestors arrived first in 1610 and later 1620, and took it from them, acre by acre.

According to a 2021 NPR report he Blind Spot In The Great American Protest Song, Cree musician Buffy Sainte-Marie refused to perform the song with Pete Seeger in 1966, telling the Village Voice in 2017, “I just cried through it. I thought, ‘This used to be my land and you guys aren’t even smart enough to be sensitive to this?'”

In the same report Mali Obomsawin, an Odanak Abenaki First Nation activist and musician, voiced her agreement: “In the context of America,” she wrote in an essay for Smithsonian Folklife, “a nation-state built by settler colonialism, Woody Guthrie’s protest anthem exemplifies the particular blind spot that Americans have in regard to Natives: American patriotism erases us, even if it comes in the form of a leftist protest song. Why? Because this land ‘was’ our land.”

It’s ironic that Pete Seeger, whose rendition of This Land is Your Land is well-known and who was aware of this omission, is a direct descendant of two Mayflower passengers, Francis Cooke and Stephen Hopkins, as am I. (This makes him a paternal 7th cousin once removed.)

Shalom (שלום), MAA

One thought on “This Land is Whose Land?

  1. And the Nakba?an infinitesimal amount of Americans know that term… Also justified by religious lunacy.. but with underlying imperial ambitions… Peace be with you, Jon ________________________________

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