I enjoy Thanksgiving as a time to be together with family. But beyond that, I really have little use for the holiday, especially some of the quasi-religious overtones. Perhaps it's because I living Virginia and resent the way in which the Pilgrim's hijacked the Thanksgiving story which actually began in Virginia at Berkeley Plantation before the Pilgrims - who in reality were religious extremists - even arrived in North America. But, it's really more about the fraudulent mythology that is perpetuated around the holiday that glosses over the genocide done by the Pilgrims and their descendants against the indigenous people they found. It's also about the religious persecution that the Pilgrims inflicted on others - both settlers and native American - who failed to subscribe to their foul version of Christianity. Indeed, the Pilgrims launched the model of religious persecution that has long haunted America, with LGBT individuals long being a favored target of religious based animus. A piece in Huffington Post reminds us of the other side of the Thanksgiving myth. Here are highlights:
When Cedric Cromwell sits down with his family for a meal on Thanksgiving each year, the day holds a unique kind of significance.
Cromwell is the chairman and president of the tribal council of the Mashpee Wampanoag, the same Native American tribe that first made contact with the Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts in 1620. While the Wampanoag welcomed the Pilgrims and helped them ensure a successful first harvest, they were nearly wiped out by warfare and disease that arrived with the settlers.
For Cromwell, Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give thanks, but also to highlight the way that his people suffered at the hands of the settlers.
The day is both a chance to ceremoniously express gratitude -- a practice that existed in Native American culture before the Pilgrims arrived -- and an opportunity to highlight the challenges the community faces today. Just as some are pushing to recognize "Indigenous Peoples' Day" on Columbus Day, there is an effort to use the Thanksgiving holiday to bring an accurate representation of Native American history into mainstream American culture.
Cromwell said that it was important to both give thanks and highlight the brutal history Native Americans have faced.
"Some would say, 'Why be so dark about it?' Well, it's real, it's truthful, it was a holocaust, and that holocaust must be shared and communicated so that we ensure that mankind doesn't do that to each other again," Cromwell said.
"The real underlying issue is the mythology; there's a view that we're this big melting pot country, or there's a view that the Natives and the Pilgrims lived happily ever after and the Native people just evaporated into the woods or something to make way for the Pilgrims and all of the other aspects of the European invasion," she continued. "All around the country, schools continue to dress up their children in little Pilgrim and Indian costumes and the Indians welcome the Pilgrims and they all sit down together and everybody says 'Isn't that cute, that's so nice.' That's not at all what happened."
Throughout the Northeast, proclamations to create ‘redskins’, or scalps of Native Americans, were common during war and peace times. According to the 1775 Phips Proclamation in Massachusetts, King George II of Britain called for “subjects to embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.”
Colonists were paid for each Penobscot Native they killed – fifty pounds for adult male scalps, twenty-five for adult female scalps, and twenty for scalps of boys and girls under age twelve. These proclamations explicitly display the settlers’ “intent to kill”, a major indicator of genocidal acts.
- 10 million+ Estimated number of Native Americans living in land that is now the United States when European explorers first arrived in the 15th century
- Less than 300,000 Estimated number of Native Americans living in the United States around 1900
That's right, state sponsored murder of children and the near annihilation of a people. As we gather today, let's pause and remember the horrors done by the Pilgrims and other European settlers who painted the indigenous peoples as "savages" and "heathens" and used these labels as a justification for the extermination. Much of America's history is very ugly and we need to remember this reality.