Holidays, Politics

Thanksgiving: A Day of Mourning

If you are celebrating Thanksgiving today, have a fabulous day!  It’s more than a harvest festival, it’s family, it’s culture.  It’s about giving thanks for a bountiful and beautiful land.  What a wonderful thing to celebrate.  Maybe we should all reinvent Harvest Festival here in the UK.  But ….

But there’s one not-so-little fly in the ointment.  That country was founded on colonialism.  On the wiping out of native peoples.  On the stealing of land.  On murder.  And if we think this is all in the past, we only need to look at what’s happening right now at Standing Rock.

The traditional stories of the original Thanksgiving have the Pilgrim Fathers in Plymouth sharing the bounty of their harvest with the Wampanoag Native Americans. But the truth is a little more complicated.  When those English colonialists arrived in 1620, the Wampanoag people did not see them as a threat.  They believed they had come in peace.  They saw the settlers struggling with their harvests.  Saw them die of starvation, and they stepped in to help.  They taught them how to grow crops that would survive.  They gave them food to stop them starving.  Did they sit down at the table at that first Thanksgiving? Tim Turner, Cherokee manager of the Wampanoag Homesite and owner of Native Plymouth Tours doesn’t see any evidence for that. He doesn’t believe the Wampanoag people even knew about it.

“Most historians believe what happened was (they) got word that there was tremenduos amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village, so (Wampanoag leader) Massasoit thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.” says Turner.  When they arrived, they were invited to join the Pilgrims’ feast, but there wasn’t enough food to go round. “So Massasoit sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town.”

Which is a bit different to the way it’s told.  Now if all ended there, and everyone lived happily ever after, I could be accused of being pedantic and more than a bit picky.  But of course it didn’t end there.  The myth of the benevolent settlers and the violent murderous native people went on – and continues now – for 400 years.

In those 400 years, Native American people lost their land, their rights, and their lives.  And still it goes on.  As we see at Standing Rock.  Thanksgiving is one of the great institutions of the USA.  A beloved holiday and feast that transcends colour, class and creed.  It’s about family, and being thankful for what you’ve got.  But when what you have is a legacy of theft and murder, it’s no wonder that Native people aren’t so keen on it.  “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.” (1)

(1) Tim Turner quoted in: The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story, Michelle Tirado,

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