[b:bb17229d24]"Thanksgiving"- a National Day of Mourning?[/b:bb17229d24]
[i:bb17229d24](compiled from essays by James W. Loewen, Terri J Andrews and the website - http://www.pilgrimhall.org/daymourn.htm) [/i:bb17229d24]
[b:bb17229d24]Never before in the history of America has a subset of this country’s population been so misrepresented, lied about, and viciously condemned and criticized than the Native American Indians. Our own history books present a censored and false past that glorifies the "proud, pure and righteous" settlers, while stereotyping the original inhabitants as wild savages in war bonnets, running through the forest looking for food and scalping innocent children and women. Take a look through a child’s history book and you will often note an image of the pilgrims, colonists and pioneers that include log cabins, the pursuit of religious freedom and a strong sense of community. Often times, paintings of the Native Indians hiding behind trees with tomahawks, watching the unsuspecting Europeans, are wrongly depicted to children. This is a common thread woven through the fabric of American history - a lie that ties together a past built on stolen tradition and absent information retold in books authored by non-Native Americans.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a perfect example of censorship and the rewriting of truth. A portrait painted of the friendly Indians and the openhearted pilgrims coming together to feast after a long, sorry winter is accepted and tolerated by the American community. But this portrait is not correct. The story is much deeper than that; so much deeper that the Native American Indian community calls this day - The National Day of Mourning - and stages rallies to protest the holiday. Their reasons are valid. The true story of Thanksgiving is not something a country should be proud of.
The first National Day of Mourning was held in 1970. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts invited Wampanoag leader Frank James to deliver a speech. When the text of Mr. James’ speech, a powerful statement of anger at the history of oppression of the Native people of America, became known before the event, the Commonwealth "disinvited" him. That silencing of a strong and honest Native voice led to the convening of the National Day of Mourning.
The Pilgrims of New England, who came to this country in 1620, were not simple refugees from England fighting against oppression and religious discrimination. They were political revolutionaries and part of the Puritan movement, which was considered objectionable and unorthodox by the King of the Church of England. They were outcasts in their own country, plotting to take over the government, causing some of the settlers to become fugitives in their own country. These Puritan Pilgrims saw themselves as the "chosen elect", from the Bibles’ Book of Revelations and traveled to America to build "The Kingdom of God", also from Revelations. Strict with the scripture, they considered an enemy of anyone who did not follow suit. These beliefs were eventually transmitted to the other colonists, and the Puritan belief system quickly spread across the New England area.
Yes, the "Pilgrims" did come to America in 1620. Yes they were inapt to care for themselves due to the harshness of the winter and their lack of stored food and supplies. Yes, they did have a "feast."
They were NOT met by "friendly" Indians who waved them in from the banks or welcomed their arrival. The Native people did not trust the whites, having encountered such foreigners before and suffering severe consequences. The Natives took pity on the settlers and only a (very) few Native Americans were actually "friendly" to the newcomers. The Native community did not help the colonists because of a deep friendship, rather it was a custom of their culture and religion to help those who were in need. The two groups did NOT come together to celebrate the harvest, as friends, and rejoice in the "first" Thanksgiving. They were meeting to discuss land rights. Lastly, it was NOT the first Thanksgiving. An Autumnal harvest and banquet were a tradition of the Native people - a celebration that was a part of their culture for centuries.
In 1617, just before the Pilgrims landed, the process started in southern New England. A plague struck that made the Black Death pale by comparison.Today we think it was the bubonic plague, although pox and influenza are also candidates. British fishermen had been fishing off Massachusetts for decades before the Pilgrims landed. After filling their hulls with cod, they would set forth on land to get firewood and fresh water and perhaps capture a few Indians to sell into slavery in Europe.
On one of these expeditions they probably transmitted the illness to the people they met. Whatever it was, within three years this plague wiped out between 90 percent and 96 percent of the inhabitants of southern New England. The Indian societies lay devastated. Only "the twentieth person is scarce left alive," wrote British eyewitness Robert Cushman, describing a death rate unknown in all previous human experience. Unable to cope with so many corpses, survivors fled to the next tribe, carrying the infestation with them, so that Indians died who had never seen a white person.
John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, called the plague "miraculous." To a friend in England in 1634, he wrote:
[i:bb17229d24]"But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect…."[/i:bb17229d24]
For many Native American Indians of present day, the traditional "Thanksgiving" holiday is not recognized as the Pilgrim/Indian day popularized in children’s history books; rather it is a day of sorrow and shame. Sorrow for the fallen lives of those who were lost so long ago, and shame for living in a country who honors people who used religion and self-righteousness to condone murder, treachery and slavery.
For the many in the Native community, "Thanksgiving" is a day to reflect on what has happened (past and present); to pray to the Creator that more people will know of the truth and show respect towards the fallen culture; to fast the body; to protest the commercialization of Thanksgiving; to share their time with the less fortunate in soup kitchens or shelters; and some take part in a family meal, honoring the spirit of Chief Massasoit and his initial charity and intentions of the Wampanoag Indians - who first came to initiate a peace agreement between them and the newcomers.
Celebrating the spirit of the holiday - without the propaganda that is attached, is a respectful way to share the day with the Native American people. Understanding the true historical significance of their contributions to the day, as well as what the consequences of their efforts led to be, is even more important. Should we teach the truths about Thanksgiving? Or, like our textbooks, should we look the other way? Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them "Pilgrims" until the 1870s.
Plymouth Rock achieved ichnographic status only in the nineteenth century, when some enterprising residents of the town moved it down to the water so its significance as the "holy soil" the Pilgrims first touched might seem more plausible. The Rock has become a shrine, the Mayflower Compact a sacred text, and our textbooks play the same function as the Anglican BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, teaching us the rudiments of the civil religion of Thanksgiving.
Because Thanksgiving has roots in both Anglo and Native cultures, and
because of the interracial cooperation the first celebration enshrines, Thanksgiving might yet develop into a holiday that promotes tolerance and understanding. Its emphasis on Native foods provides a teachable moment, for natives of the Americas first developed half of the world’s food crops. Texts could tell this—only three even mention Indian foods—-and could also relate other contributions from Indian societies, from sports to political ideas.
The original Thanksgiving itself provides an interesting example: the Natives and newcomers spent the better part of three days showing each other their various recreations.
Origin myths do not come cheaply. To glorify the Pilgrims is dangerous. The genial omissions and false details our texts use to retail the Pilgrim legend promote Anglocentrism, which only handicaps us when dealing with all those whose culture is not Anglo. Surely, in history, "truth should be held sacred, at whatever cost."[/b:bb17229d24]