Why Don't You Celebrate Thanksgiving? An Essay
A disclaimer: read the warning first.
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.
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 I am a Native American only seems to confuse some of
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,
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
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.
"Wait, we can not break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years
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 are once again important."