I must really like the political hotbed. I keep stepping in it. I don’t think it’s a huge surprise that Thanksgiving isn’t a happy time for everyone. Nor do I think it’s a surprise that history has been rewritten. We sort of accept this as par for the course in our nation’s history, but too often we shy away from it because it’s ugly and we don’t want to be reminded of that.
Let’s face it, as a nation we suck at dealing with unpleasant truths. It’s a societal problem. No one enjoys having angry memes that tell them harsh truths thrown at them. We go to great lengths to refute articles based on title without giving the information time to trickle in. I’m just as guilty as the rest. I’m feeding into a racist society? No! Not me! I couldn’t be! But I am, just as much as everyone else majority and minority alike. Until we start acknowledging the truth and our own personal parts in it we will never evolve past this point.
For Thanksgiving specifically, the truth has nothing to do with pleasant pilgrims and happy Indians sharing a meal after a good harvest. I really want that to be true. I want my kids to hear this version and think of all the ways we can get along regardless of beliefs.
The first Thanksgiving was a party thrown by the mayor of a small town in 1671 after the slaughter of over 700 American Indian men, women, children, and elderly. A white man had been murdered and the nearby tribe was blamed. The town went crazy as mobs tend to do and slaughtered hundreds of innocent. For a century after that the Thanksgiving feast was celebrated as thanks for that “victory”.
There is a really ugly truth. I don’t like it. I have reason to believe I have Monacan blood, but I also have puritan blood. Like most American’s whose families have been in the country since the 1900’s or before, I have a lot of mixing in me. I doubt I’m pure anything. I don’t think there is such a thing as purebred in America. It’s simply not possible.
I don’t wish to take away a holiday from people. I love any reason to party and spread joy. I don’t think it serves anyone to abolish the holiday. I do believe there are parts of it that have morphed into true giving of thanks, and I have a lot to be thankful for. However I don’t think the holiday means nearly as much if we don’t accept the ugly truth. Having studied Ojibwa and other grassland tribes in my youth I fully believe our ancestors would want us to find a way to honor them and have joy.
I will eat turkey, and green bean casserole, and stuffing (gluten free), and cranberry sauce and make my famous pumpkin fluff and probably steal a few pieces of gluten riddled pie. Why? Because I like it. I don’t care a whole lot what they really would have eaten in the era of the first Thanksgiving. I enjoy the traditions my family and friends have created over the years.
But I will also pray for the slain American Indians from all battles during the “settling” of the United States. I will remember them. I will attempt to continue their memory and live by their teachings which have had a huge influence on my spirituality as long as I can remember. I will not feed into this false truth of gentle pilgrims and generous Indians. I will openly and honestly attempt a dialogue that does not shame those left with this legacy so as to teach them. And at noon on Thanksgiving Day, the time when the National Day Of Mourning observance begins at Cole's Hill Plymouth, I will bow my head in silence and feel the beat of drums in my heart.
All this week I will be filing my twitter with images of American Indians. My purpose is not shame or anger, but remembrance and honor. We serve nothing by blaming the living for an act that happened almost 400 years ago. We have everything to gain by accepting the truth and making something beautiful out of it in their memory.
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.