Friday, November 24, 2006

Why Don't You Celebrate Thanksgiving? An Essay

I post this on the message boards---and here on the ZPT---every year.
Have a wonderful day---whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not.

A disclaimer: read the warning first.
If you don't, I'm not responsible if you get offended.
Hell, I'm not responsible if you get offended either way.....


BEFORE YOU READ THIS, A WARNING:
Do not read this if you will be offended by a different point of view on the Thanksgiving holiday.
I am not here to preach to anyone and have no desire to ruin anyone's concept
of the holiday (and the quotes at the end are intended to be humorous, nothing more).
I am posting this only because I received so many requests to do so,
and I am personally of the belief that knowledge hidden is knowledge wasted.
Thanks in advance.
*****************************

WHY DON'T YOU CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING?

Over the last few days, I have been asked this a dozen times or more. It happens every year. My reply that Iam Native American only seems to confuse some of
the questioners. "Well, it's your holiday, too," I hear quite often. My answer:
it is not my holiday.
And here is why.

The traditional Thanksgiving story tells that the Pilgrims, after a long and hard winter, celebrated with a feast and invited their Indian friends. A nice story,
to be sure. But not the whole story. That story is a mixture of both truth and myth. What follows, is our truth (just a note: there is another version of a Thanksgiving which
has nothing to do with Pilgrims. Click here for the story of the Pequot Tribe massacre and the feasting that the Mass. Bay Colony declared to celebrate it).

First of all, one must understand that the Pilgrims were a splinter group of the Puritans, an extremist religious sect. They viewed themselves as the "Chosen Elect" from Revelations. They saw themselves as fighting a Holy war against Satan, and anyone who disagreed with them was their enemy. This inculded their "friends," the Natives. In fact, in the 1623 Thanksgiving sermon, they gave thanks to God for the smallpox that had nearly wiped out all of the Wampanoag Indians. They were especially thankful that the men and children had died, or the "seeds" of their nation. Not a particularly nice way to treat peoples who helped them survive that first winter in the "New" World. For without the help of the Natives, the Pilgrims would have died. Insofar as the Pilgrims were concerned, they had "repaid" that kindness with the feast, and owed the Natives nothing more. The
Natives were still their Holy enemies, to be treated as such. In fact, the Pilgrims believed that they only had to be kind to the Natives because they were, at that time, powerful; and only needed to continue being kind until the boatloads of settlers shifted the balance of power in the Pilgrims' favor. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of American history realizes that that is exactly what happened.

Which leads one to a question with an ironic answer: "Why did the Natives help the Pilgrims?" Because, in their religion, one must give hospitality to any who came to them with open hands, and their religion stressed charity to the helpless. In fact, it was the Natives who brought the vast majority of the food to that first Thanksgiving feast! The Pilgrims weren't "sharing their bounty." It was the other way around.

By the time the children of that first Thanksgiving reached adulthood, the Pilgrims and their reinforcements began to systmatically commit genocide against the Native peoples in a war known as King Phillip's War. Many Natives were also captured and sold into slavery for the profit of the Pilgrims whom they had saved from starvation only years before. So successful was this slave trade, in fact, that the settlers began raiding Africa to bring slaves to the "New" World.

To add insult to injury, children in schools have for generations been prompted to "re-enact" that first feast by donning gross misrepresentations of Native ceremonial clothing and speaking in broken English in order
to pretend be the "Indians" who are "thankful" to be invited to the feast! These "costumes" and broken English stereotypes are highly offensive to Native Americans, and many schools now are discontinuing such programs
as a result, or altering them into a more tolerant program.

Many Natives celebrate a "Day Of Mourning" on Thanksgiving Day, to mourn our ancestors who were killed for their generosity (I am not one who does this, although I respect those who do).

So, to wrap it up: in our version of the first Thanksgiving, we helped the Pilgrims survive that first horrible winter in the "New World." We even brought a great deal of food to a feast to celebrate. Once the feast was over, we discovered that our "friends" saw us as demons to be eradicated from the land or sold into
slavery for their profit. Shiploads upon shiploads of the "white man" came to make good on the promise to commit genocide against us. Our religious beliefs prompted us to help them; theirs promted them to kill us. The sad irony of the myth that the Pilgrims "escaped" England because of religious persecution does not escape us (That story is not exactly true, either. Click here for a more accurate history of the Pilgrims.).

So I cannot, in good conscience, celebrate a holiday that in my mind is a lie. I cannot celebrate the decimation of the Native American. I cannot celebrate people who, if they had had their way, would rather I not exist at all.

To be fair, Thanksgiving has evolved into something far beyond what the
Pilgrims celebrated. Now, it means a gathering of the family, and a chance to count one's blessings. I respect those who celebrate for those reasons, and wish them a happy holiday.

I wish our side of the story was taught in schools, rather than perpetuate the myths. I wish that Thanksgiving could be a time when Americans remember and honor the Native peoples who helped them survive and made this country possible. Perhaps someday, it will.

I want to thank everyone who showed interest in this topic. It brightens my day that
so many people wanted to hear this side of the tale.
Thank you.
*************************
I'd like to wrap up this posting with a quote from the movie, "Addams Family Values":

"Wait, we can not break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years
from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, and you will play
golf, and eat hot h'ors d'ourves. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken.
They said do not trust the pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller. And for all of these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground."

And one from the television show, "King of the Hill":

Dale: "Do your people even celebrate Thanksgiving?"
John Red Corn: "We did...once."




And finally, one from a Wampanoag Tribal member in Massachusetts, from a speech given in 1970 at a ceremony marking the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival:


"Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people. Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people
and nature once again are important."


Have a blessed day.

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17 Comments:

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said...

The History Channel had a pretty good docu-drama of the real story, and they even had Wampanoag as actors. It's really heartbreaking to watch, like a slow-motion train wreck, because you know what's going to happen. Right from the minute the starving Englishmen dig up graves looking for food, terrified that "the savages" will be angry with them if they find out, it's like a preview of everything horrible that's going to happen over the next 200 years. I think the reason white people invented the whole myth of the "Happy NDN" at Thanksgiving, and the reason some get so angry and defensive about it now, is that, deep down, they feel sick and guilty over the fact that America is built on the cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing of NDNs. Rather than confront their feelings, its simply easier to pretend that history occured differently and to blame the victims.

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Bint Alshamsa said...

You know, I don't think that America feels sick and guilty at all. I think that they are not defensive even though they are angry when the truth about Thanksgiving is spoken about. The attitude of America is, in my opinion, better described as indignant. They are indignant because they are offended that we dare to contradict "history". To them, history is whatever narrative--simple omissions of facts to complete falsifications--they demand the rest of us to go along with. To them, we are not fully human even now.

 
At 10:35 PM, Blogger Bint Alshamsa said...

Zen Angel,

Thank you for visiting my blog. It always cheers me up to encounter other Native American bloggers.

I feel like I could have written this post myself. I feel like it's not enough for us to simply refrain from celebrating an event that really marked the beginning of a five hundred year long assault on our people. The wasi'chu are actively telling their story, so if we don't put the truth out there, they sure aren't going to do it for us.

The other day, when someone asked me why don't I celebrate Thanksgiving, I tried to give them the simple breakdown of my convictions but even after all that they asked me "But don't you have anything you could just be thankful for?"

I was so pissed off that I told them,

"Yeah, I'm thankful that your ancestors weren't successful in killing off all of us as they fully intended to do".

Maybe next time they won't make me waste my time explaining something to them when they have absolutely no desire to understand anything beyond whatever they've seen on tv.

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said...

'They are indignant because they are offended that we dare to contradict "history"'

I agree with you re: the reactions of some whites. "Indignant" is a good way to describe it, tho' I have seen it rapidly morph into blind rage when challenged. It's sort of a slippery slope for them. If they admit that the Thanksgiving myth is just that, and that NDNs have legitimate grievances, then they ultimately have to admit that what is now the United States was, in pretty much its entirety, swindled or stolen. White people have NEVER wanted to admit ANY shortcomings, but its even worse in these days when dissent = treason in the minds of many.

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger Zen Angel said...

Hale: You make some excellent points. I meant to watch that History Channel docu, but I'm struggling with bronchitis and ended up sleeping through it instead.

Bint: I thank you as well...I really enjoyed your blog, and I am glad you enjoyed mine. You are very correct; we must put our side of the story out there, or no one else will.

At my husband's work the other day, his co-workers asked him what his plans were for Thanksgiving. When he told them we don't celebrate it, they were dumbstruck, and wanted to know why. "My wife is a Native American," he said, thinking that would be explanation enough. It wasn't. Although he spent the next 20 minutes trying to explain it to them, they just didn't get it.

A pity, really.

 
At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm British and we know all about rewriting history. Indeed if you ask any young British person about the days of empire they'll have virtually no idea what you're talking about. In Japan the schools teach nothing about the atrocities that nation committed against China prior to and during WWII.
Indeed beyond Germany, I don't think any country in the world is able to soberly reflect on how they are founded on murder and destruction. They all need that myth of greatness to con the citizens of the world that they can only live well as divided peoples, and give power those who protect the status quo.

As for America itself, I think it's still true that 'the only good indian is a dead one', even amongst progressives. They're all over Dances With Wolves like it counts as an apology or something, but discuss the suicide rates among indigenous communities and it's news to them.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Héctor said...

I'm from Mexico, and we have it the other way: Spanish conquerors weren't that meanspirited against native mexicans (aztecs, mayas, etc.). However, the "official" story is that Spanish concquerors (and missioners) were these awful people who killed off every native who refused to convert to catholicism. So, here we are taught that our ancestors were a bunch of bastards with no heart that killed, raped and destroyed native indians, when actually Spanish laws were very protective towards native mexicans.
Guess the virtue is always at the middle, right?
Great blog, by the way.

 
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