[Ed. note: This is an interesting article by a young woman that you should check out. Yes, even as you finish off those leftovers! –CT]
Dismantling Thanksgiving myths: a Native American story
by Aisha Ali, D.C. Youth Issues Examiner
The history of Thanksgiving
Prior to European settlers, North America consisted of 10-16 million Native Americans. Some researchers say there may have been nearly 30 million Native Americans, prior to European settlers. Long before Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed the first Thanksgiving, Native Americans of North America had harvest celebrations for centuries, praising the “Earth Mother” who bestowed upon them herds for hunting, aquatic bodies for fishing, and plentiful crops for harvesting. Although these harvest celebrations differed for each tribe across North America, there was still a common belief amongst Native Americans that a “spiritual” being or force had blessed them with life and longevity.
For hundreds of years, before Pilgrims had arrived in the “New World” in 1620, Native Americans of North America encountered English and Spanish slave traders, who had raided their villages. Needless to say, when the first set of European settlers landed on Plymouth, Native Americans were a bit apprehensive of having the Europeans on their land. However, Tisquantum, who is widely recognized as “Squanto” in American history, spoke English and was able to communicate with the Pilgrims, realizing they were sick and hungry. Thus, Tisquantum decided to show the Pilgrims how to survive in America through harvesting crops, hunting, and fishing. It has been argued how Tisquantum could have it in his heart to help the Pilgrims after being thrice captured by European slaver traders, prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival. However, it is in Native American culture to have good will and a generous heart. It is through these actions the Natives believed they would receive blessings.
It is speculated the first Thanksgiving occurred in October 1621; however, there are major date discrepancies. Some records report it lasted for three days and included: fasting, prayer, religious ceremonies, and finally, the shared meal. The Wampanoag people, the tribe to which Tisquantum belonged, provided most of the food. However, the first Thanksgiving was neither to share “thanks” nor to display “love and affection” for one another as stories claim. The Wampanoag were actually invited to the first Thanksgiving to negotiate a treaty that would grant the Pilgrims rights to the Plymouth land. Since the Native American population and its knowledge of America’s lands outweighed that of the Pilgrims, the Pilgrims viewed Native Americans as a threat. By creating a treaty, the Pilgrims would have the land “secured” for when more Pilgrims reached the “New World”. Once more Pilgrims arrived, they could begin to conquer the Native Americans and pillage their land. Until then, the Pilgrims would “play nice” until the shift of power was transferred to them. Hence, the first Thanksgiving is created.
Religion and a broken promise
The Pilgrims who settled in America were not innocent exiles who unjustly had been banished from their country. Instead, they were “political revolutionist” belonging to the Puritan movement, which was seen as unorthodox and intolerable by the King of the Church of England. The Puritan Pilgrims viewed themselves as being the “chosen elect,” linking themselves to the Book of Revelations, and decided to travel to America to build a “Kingdom of God”. Pilgrim leader, William Bradford, wrote in his diary that the voyage to the “New World” was motivated by “a great hope for advancing the kingdom of Christ.” Also, it should be noted the Puritans did eventually overthrow the England government in 1649.
The Puritans, if living today, would be classified as religious fanatics who would do anything “to serve their God”. They held the notion everything had to be “pure”. If people’s religious beliefs differed from Puritan values, the Puritans felt compelled to “purify” others, as well. Needless to say, once the Pilgrims witnessed how Native Americans worshipped differently, the Pilgrims enforced their religious beliefs upon Native Americans as being “righteous” and “the chosen religion”. This was the same behavior that led to the Pilgrims’ exile from England.
The Pilgrims neglected to see the spirituality Native Americans possessed, particularly when involving their connection to the land. In their attempt to spread Puritanism, the Puritan Pilgrims were not always very peaceful. Furthermore, since Tisquantum had been christianized during his capture and stay in England, the Pilgrims viewed him as an instrument to spread Puritanism amongst the Wampanoag people. However, when the Natives rebelled, the Puritans used trickery, treason, torment, warfare, and genocide to achieve their end: a new, exclusive nation existing predominantly of Puritans. The Puritans viewed their fight against Native Americans as a “holy war against Satan,” as everyone who disagreed was labeled “savages”— the word often used to describe Native Americans. The Puritan’s elitist attitudes and behaviors were transported to the “New World,” and it was this attitude and behavior that compelled them to conquer Native Americans. In fact, when Governor Winthrop proclaimed the first Thanksgiving, it was a celebration for the safe return of the Puritan men from what is now called Mystic, Connecticut after a successful massacre of 700 Pequot men, women, and children, which is known as the Thanksgiving Massacre.
Furthermore, hostile feelings further erupted because the Pilgrims reneged on their agreement with the Native Americans established during the first Thanksgiving meal. Since the Pilgrims’ harvest was meager, Native Americans wanted to exchange their harvest for beads and metals, and other materials the Europeans owned. Initially expressing willingness, as the Pilgrims accepted the Natives’ harvest, the Pilgrims in the end, did not follow through with their word. Since Native American tribal leaders strove to be men of their word, they were angered by the Pilgrims’ bad faith.
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