THANKSGIVING A CELEBRATION OF GENOCIDE
By Laura Eliff, Vice President Native American Student Association
Thanksgiving is a holiday where families gather to share stories, football games are watched on television and a big feast is served. It is also the time of the month when people talk about Native Americans. But does one ever wonder why we celebrate this national holiday? Why does everyone give thanks? History is never simple. The standard history of Thanksgiving tells us that the "Pilgrims and Indians" feasted for three days, right? Most Americans believe that there was some magnificent bountiful harvest. In the Thanksgiving story, are the "Indians" even acknowledged by a tribe? No, because everyone assumes "Indians" are the same.
So, who were these Indians in 1621? In 1620, Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower naming the land Plymouth Rock. One fact that is always hidden is that the village was already named Patuxet and the Wampanoag Indians lived there for thousands of years. To many Americans, Plymouth Rock is a symbol. Sad but true many people assume, "It is the rock on which our nation began." In 1621, Pilgrims did have a feast but it was not repeated years thereafter. So, it wasn't the beginning of a Thanksgiving tradition nor did Pilgrims call it a Thanksgiving feast. Pilgrims perceived Indians in relation to the Devil and the only reason why they were invited to that feast was for the purpose of negotiating a treaty that would secure the lands for the Pilgrims.
The reason why we have so many myths about Thanksgiving is that it is an invented tradition. It is based more on fiction than fact. So, what truth ought to be taught? In 1637, the official Thanksgiving holiday we know today came into existence. (Some people argue it formally came into existence during the Civil War, in 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed it, which also was the same year he had 38 Sioux hung on Christmas Eve.) William Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chair of the anthropology department of the University of Connecticut, claims that the first Thanksgiving was not "a festive gathering of Indians and Pilgrims, but rather a celebration of the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children."
In 1637, the Pequot tribe of Connecticut gathered for the annual Green Corn Dance ceremony. Mercenaries of the English and Dutch attacked and surrounded the village; burning down everything and shooting whomever try to escape. The next day, Newell notes, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: "A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children." It was signed into law that, "This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots."
Most Americans believe Thanksgiving was this wonderful dinner and harvest celebration.
The truth is the "Thanksgiving dinner" was invented both to instill a false pride in Americans and to cover up the massacre. Was Thanksgiving really a massacre of 700 "Indians"? The present Thanksgiving may be a mixture of the 1621 three-day feast and the "Thanksgiving" proclaimed after the 1637 Pequot massacre. So next time you see the annual "Pilgrim and Indian display" in a shopping window or history about other massacres of Native Americans, think of the hurt and disrespect Native Americans feel. Thanksgiving is observed as a day of sorrow rather than a celebration. This year at Thanksgiving dinner, ponder why you are giving thanks.
William Bradford, in his famous History of the Plymouth Plantation, celebrated the Pequot massacre: "Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie."
The Pequot massacre came after the colonists, angry at the murder of an English trader suspected by the Pequots of kidnapping children, sought revenge. rather than fighting the dangerous Pequot warriors, John Mason and John Underhill led a group of colonists and Native allies to the Indian fort in Mystic, and killed the old men, women, and children who were there. Those who escaped were later hunted down. The Pequot tribe numbered 8,000 when the Pilgrims arrived, but disease had brought their numbers down to 1,500 by 1637. The Pequot "War" killed all but a handful of remaining members of the tribe.
Proud of their accomplishments, Underhill wrote a book (above) depicted the burning of the village, and even made an illustration (below) showing how they surrounded the village to kill all within it. - John K. Wilson Link to Above Report The First Thanksgiving The year was 1637. 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe, gathered for their "Annual Green Corn Dance" in the area that is now known as Groton, Conn. While they were gathered in this place of meeting, they were surrounded and attacked by mercenaries of the English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from the building and as they came forth, they were shot down. The rest were burned alive in the building. The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared :
A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children. For the next 100 years, every "Thanksgiving Day" ordained by a Governor or President was to honor that victory, thanking God that the battle had been won. Source: Documents of Holland, 13 Volume Colonial Documentary History, letters and reports form colonial officials to their superiors and the King in England and the private papers of Sir William Johnson, British Indian agent for the New York colony for 30 years Researched by William B. Newell (Penobscot Tribe) Former Chairman of the University of Connecticut Anthropology Department. 1637-When the Green Corn Dance Turned to Blood
We're talking turkey - and Thanksgiving
by Terri Jean
The Native Truth: A column dedicated to historical truth and human rights activism of the American Indian
Okay, so "Dead Indian Day" may be a bit much, but it is said with tongue in cheek.
Last year's 79th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade drew in an estimated 44 million television viewers and 2.5 million spectators who lined the streets of New York City to stand in awe of the gigantic balloons, Pilgrim bobble heads, melodious marching bands, and beautiful floats, one of which featured two-time Grammy winner, Rita Coolidge (Cherokee). She was riding on top of an eagle head that poked out from underneath an enormous headdress, which sat atop a canoe. Dancers from Spirit: The Seventh Fire accompanied her. Though Coolidge's voice was amazing, it wasn't her singing that piqued my attention, rather it was knowing that while she smiled her beautiful indigenous smile at millions of people who truly believe the friendly Indian/brave Pilgrim banquet tale, hundreds of dissenters marched - for the 35th straight year - through Plymouth, Massachusetts in protest of this manufactured myth in what they refer to as a National Day of Mourning.
It all started in 1970 when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts invited Wampanoag leader Frank James to deliver a speech pertaining to the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. He agreed, but they later dis-invited him once they read a copy of his speech and strongly disagreed with his contrary perception of the historic event. Refusing to remain silent, Frank James took his speech outside and spoke to hundreds of supporters on top of a Coles Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock and a replica of the Mayflower. He spoke about the land theft, slave-trading, deception, oppression, and the struggle for historical truth. Each year since indigenous people and their non-Native supporters gather together each year to honor Frank James and his spirit of justice and an end to the idealized whitewashed fantasy that is, today, known as Thanksgiving.
For those of you unfamiliar with the truth, here goes:
In 1620 a group of English political revolutionaries and outcasts who moved to Holland after an unsuccessful plot to take over the English government, came to the "New World" with the intent to found an entirely new nation founded on their strict, religious interpretation of the Bible. They believed that they were the Biblical "Chosen Elect," and the already inhabited western continent was theirs. The invading Pilgrims built homes near Pawtuxet village ruins, a town desecrated by diseases from a 1614 British Expedition. Except for the ex-slave/friendly Christian Squanto, the Pilgrims viewed the indigenous inhabitants as heathen children of the devil, and one colonist said the plaque was "the Wonderful Preparation of the Lord Jesus Christ by His Providence for His People's Abode in the Western World." Squanto helped negotiate land settlements between them and the Wampanoag, in a 1621 a three-day 'conference' in which the charitable Wampanoag's brought most of the food, which was tradition among such meetings. In the end, peace between the two people's would continue for more than 15 years.
In 1622 propaganda started to circulate about the friendly Natives, the "wonderfulness"of Plymouth, and the vast opportunities found only in the "New World" in an effort to encourage a greater influx of Pilgrim and Puritan colonists. By the mid 1630's tension broke out between the indigenous communities and the invading colonists, resulting in one of the most brutal crimes in our nation's history: colonist trapped an estimated 700 Pequots near Mystic River in 1636 and attacked their camp with "fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk." Most were burned alive, and those that escaped were either butchered or sold into slavery. The invaders celebrated with the a large feast, and the very first Thanksgiving Proclamation was given in honor of their God allowing them to murder the local residents. Scalping was soon introduced to the Americas by the Dutch who offered twenty shillings for each Indian scalp, and forty shillings for every prisoner sold into slavery. Raping indigenous women was permitted and colonial law gave permission to "kill savages on sight at will." Soon massacres and slavery were common throughout the New World, which was often celebrated with a Thanksgiving Feast.
The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts is mighty proud of their English immigrants, so much so that the town hosts and annual re-enactment known as the Pilgrim's Progress. Local historians and townspeople, dressed in long black robes and beating drums, retell the romanticized tale of the welcoming Indians and the poor, brave pilgrims and the peace between their communities for five decades. $1.5 million in tourism dollars is made each year in Plymouth, partaking in the pilgrim march, watching the decade-old parade, buying Pilgrim merchandise or eating at an re-enactment dinner that's advertised as being just like the original diner.
Millions are made from this fictional tale. No where does the truth about that 1621 meeting come out, nor do they tell what happened 50 years later. It seems that knowing that the first Thanksgiving Proclamation - which is, in my opinion, the real first Thanksgiving - was actually in praise of the burning alive of children, women and men. Apparently, the truth is a pill that's just too hard to swallow, because who really wants to decorate their table with a cardboard cutouts of sword carrying Pilgrims jamming weapons into frantic Pequots running for lives while their family and fellow villagers screamed from inside burning buildings?
In 1970 Frank James wanted to tell the truth, but he was censored. And to this day, the pilgrims remain American icons representing religious freedom and peaceful coexistence to most, but to those who know better, the fantasy (presented as history) myth represents justification of imperialism, land theft, forced colonization, and genocide.
So given all that... why would Rita Coolidge sing in the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade? Surely she knows the truth about Thanksgiving, and she has to know about the National Day of Mourning... so why would she ride in a parade that celebrates indigenous slavery, slaughter and it's historical coverup?
I asked a few readers what they thought, and most gave her a head shake and a big thumbs down. A few were upset that millions would see her and her Native American float and believe that indigenous people are generally happy with Thanksgiving, and that the fictional story is actually historic fact. Others were angry that, again, almost no media attention was brought to those mourning in Plymouth.
So, what do YOU think about all this? Should indigenous people assimilate, demonstrate, capitulate, retaliate or celebrate? Should folks honor the Wampanoag and their attempt to live peacefully next to the unassuming Pilgrims? Should Native's take pity on ignorant Americans brainwashed with historic lies and feel-good propaganda, because, like the Wampanoag, taking pity on the sick and stupid is often an indigenous ethic? Should we all go to Plymouth this year and protest, or write our fellow congressmen and demand an end to Thanksgiving? Or are we all to give in and celebrate our lives today, and all that we are thankful for?
Most of the people I spoke to about this national holiday said it is often bittersweet. Those who put a turkey on the table made the day their very own by either remembering family and friends who have since crossed over, or for strictly focusing on why they are thankful. A few spent the day at charitable institutions or delivering meals to the needy, while others fasted, ignored the day altogether or joined the protesters in Plymouth. But with everyone I spoke to, a common thread was a day of remembrance and/or mourning.
So why a Thanksgiving column in March? Well, I was unable to attend the 2005 National Day of Mourning, but I fully intend to participate in the next one. I'm inviting each of you to join me and together we can stand in solidarity, representing historical truth and indigenous justice. And for those of you who cannot attend, you can raise your voice in protest whenever you hear the lies being spread in newspapers, magazines, classrooms, television shows, and so on. You can write to the media and ask why they aren't covering the Native Day of Mourning, or why they choose to lie to their viewers and readers. And why they choose to celebrate our indigenous people on Thanksgiving - in the Macy's Day parade and with children dressed up as pilgrims and Indians in school plays - rather than with educational programs and events celebrating American Indian Heritage Month.
My point is, Thanksgiving will be here before we know it and it's up to you to decide what you're actually celebrating, and from that, what you're truly grateful for. As for me, I'd be eternally grateful if my Native Truth readers joined me at the 2006 National Day of Mourning. We can all stand together - united.
If you're going, please let me know.