November 22, 2015
Indigenous peoples were thus credited with corn, beans, buckskin, log cabins, parkas, maple syrup, canoes, hundreds of lace names, Thanksgiving, and even the concepts of democracy and federalism. But this idea of the gift-giving Indian helping to establish and enrich the development of the United States is an insidious smoke screen meant to obscure the fact that the very existence of the country is a result of the looting of an entire continent and its resources. (pg 5)
And so begins Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s storytelling in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Ortiz asks folk to consider an US history different from that which is traditionally taught in US schools, universities, and seminaries. Ortiz’s considers an US history told through the lenses of an oppressed people(s), helping US people understand how the Doctrine of Discovery, 1845 Manifest Destiny, and 2015 American Exceptionalism, has and continues to, damage and destroy American Indians.
Folk might do well to consider conversation they may have this week of Thanksgiving. Christians in particular should give thought to their conversation around the Thanksgiving supper table as light talk ends. An important conversation, because Thanksgiving Day in the US is a holy day developed by Christians for Christians. (Interesting, is it not, how Christians will complain that stores promote phrases like “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” and not grasp those stores are promoting the observance of a Christian religion holy day.)
The turkey is in pieces, the sweet potatoes half gone, chairs pushed back, folk have said their piece about what they are thankful for, and now is time to get a little edgy. Maybe a little political talk, perhaps risk a religious idea, or maybe it is time to talk on why it is time to end the US celebration of Thanksgiving.
Ask folk where the US Thanksgiving Day comes from in the first place and the answer is, often, either the elementary Plymouth Colony of Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a meal, or the reasoned 1863 Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln. However, in 2015, neither is satisfactory as colonist-settler history loses its credibility in light of histories told from indigenous and people of color perspectives.
In 1637, Puritans found a White man dead in a boat. Puritans blamed the Pequot people for the death and quickly moved to war. Leaving women, children, and the elderly in a fort with little protection, Pequot men went to fight in a fortified location. Pequot tradition held the women, children, elderly would be safe, for war was between those physically capable and skilled. Puritans though took the tactic of annihilation. Rather than meeting the Pequot men, Puritans slaughtered the few defenders there were, the women, children, and elderly. Once the defenders were slain, the structures were then set to fire and the remaining people burned to death or were killed as they fled the structures.
The Puritan William Bradford wrote,
Those that scaped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, other rune throw with the rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escaped. 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 prayers therof 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. (Ortiz)
John Mason who led the Puritan attack noted, “It may be demanded…Should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But…sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings.” (Daily Kos)
Cotton Mather, a leading Christian theologian of the day, wrote, “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.” (Daily Kos)
A day later the Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor 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.” (Daily Kos)
Learning the historical events as taught to us in US schools were not and are not fully factual must give pause to what we choose to celebrate and what we do not. As much as folk like Thanksgiving Day, it is time to recognize this holiday is a holy day created to support the US government and a social structure that not only benefits non-Indians, but also celebrates American Indian destruction. Christians, these days, do a lot of talking about diversity, multiculturalism, honoring the voice of color and the Indian voice. To do so, there seems little leeway when it comes to Thanksgiving Day; it is time for Christian to end it.