What do we do when confronted with egregious contradictions? How do we proceed when forced to step back and truly analyze traditions that have existed in this place for centuries? We step back, we analyze, we speak of things those may call uncomfortable. We with privilege we were born with and never had to earn, use that privilege to speak out, to raise attention, awareness, we with platforms use them for more than just selling shit or popularity contests. We risk the exodus in favor of honesty, in favor of truths, however unpopular they may be when raised. It should come as no surprise what I’m talking about today, having just come through Thanksgiving here in the United States, and every year it’s a holiday that conflicts me. This year was no exception, and I just wanted to talk about it here for a moment or two, if that’s cool with you.
Let’s start with a simple fact this Thanksgiving holiday, a simple truth that we cannot ignore: The Native Americans most associated with the traditional Thanksgiving holiday, those in the famed story that sparked the turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pie that so many enjoy today, do not celebrate this holiday. Instead, since 1970 when they organized and made it official, they celebrate the fourth Thursday of November as “National Day Of Mourning.” They use this national holiday not as a reminder of the fableistic mistruth about the sharing of food, and collaboration between people of such vastly different cultures, but instead as a day of mourning for the day settlers came to these shores, the first step of many that led to the genocide of millions. For Native Americans, this entire holiday is one that marked the end of an entire culture, an entire way of life, entire branches of family trees, entire trees themselves.
The enduring myth of Thanksgiving is a fascinating one, as the tale we were told over and again involved the Wampanoag tribe “saving” settlers by teaching them the ways of the land, by feeding them so they would not starve, and effectively handed over the land to these new people seeking religious freedom and the creation of some new great nation. A dozen different stories exist on the true and accurate reasons behind that initial meeting, while still some believe, the true “First Thanksgiving” was back in 1637, and was actually a celebratory feast held by Massachusetts colony governor John Winthrop, to honor the colonial soldiers who slaughtered hundreds of men, women, and children from the Pequot tribe. The true origins are debated, but one truth remains, the Wampanoag tribe to this day has a troubled and upsetting relationship with Thanksgiving and its misrepresentation.
Why then, you may ask, do we celebrate this at all? Why do we feast, why was it designated a national holiday, and for that you have ol’ honest Abe to thank. Lincoln, in an effort to create more unity during the Civil War, declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, and we celebrate it still. Erased are the truths behind its origins, erased are the realities that any peace between the Native Americans and colonists evaporated swiftly after whatever truly happened, happened. We, today, know the rest of the story, and if you don’t, I urge you to research, to read, and I can recommend an amazing book, “This Land Is Their Land” by David Silverman as a jumping off point. There’s so much more to unpack, I really do ask that you do so. For now, I wanted to get into the contradiction that has always troubled me about this holiday, and why I still acknowledge it, and how I do in light of all these troubling facts. For me, the idea of gratitude is the only, only, saving grace about this entire holiday, and has been since I first learned the harsh historical realities behind its origins. I believe that gratitude, like love, should be given as often as possible, should be celebrated as intensely as we can. We are lucky to draw breath, lucky to wander this planet, lucky to see what we see, hear what we hear, and I believe, firmly, that it’s our job to give thanks to all that we do have, all that we are, and to those that came before us.
For me, this holiday still has meaning, precisely because of the truth behind it. We need to use this day to give thanks directly to those cultures that were decimated, gratitude for the pieces of our lives directly influenced and adopted from these native cultures. We need to use it for advocacy, for honest and inclusive steps forward after dark and troubled histories. I ask you to do a few things this Thanksgiving, and you can do it while eating your turkey, your potatoes, your cranberries, or pie. I ask you to learn about the real history of the Wampanoag tribe, I ask you really think about how this is a National Day of Mourning for so many, and while doing so, actually talk about it with those at your table. If possible, advocate for more inclusive curriculums in our schools, the truth instead of the fable. Lastly, I urge you to donate to a charity or non-profit this holiday season, give back to those that had so much stolen. There is the American Indian College Fund, there is the Native American Heritage Association, both are linked in this article, and there are so many more that need help.
I love gratitude, but I want it to be placed where it belongs, I want it decorated with a truth that we are on stolen ground here, and we cannot forget that because history has been whitewashed and glamorized. Be thankful today, like every day, and celebrate with your families, but please, I urge you, to use this time to aim it properly. Like I said, it’s an inherently conflicting holiday for anyone who is truly paying attention and knows the history, as gratitude is so fundamental, especially when given to whom it belongs to. Let’s start the hard conversations, let’s use whatever privilege we have and advocate for a more inclusive holiday season. It’s the absolute least we can do.
Keep the gratitude,
but aim it where it belongs.
We’re on stolen ground.
Song of the Week
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