As people gather to be with family and friends on this federal holiday, it is essential to recall the holiday's history and the events re-told as myth and memory, the forgeries of redemption narratives covering up colonization and genocide.
The story goes that in the fall of 1621, after the Wampanoag people who had inhabited what would become southeastern Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 10,000 years, had agreed to mutual protection earlier in the years, shared a bountiful three-day feast with their friends, the Pilgrims. The holiday went through different iterations in the 17th and 19th Centuries and again after WWII. For the official Congressional version of history, click here.
"Thanksgiving is rooted in a historical fallacy," [Matika] Wilbur said, and the story is tied to the idea of white supremacy. "The main Pilgrim narrative coincides with colonization that was inherently oppressive and brutal."
Here are some resources to prepare for the holiday dinner discussion.
This article at Today,
"How to tell kids the real story behind Thanksgiving," not only suggest the All My Relations Podcast below but shares ideas about how to talk about these issues at home. "It's difficult because we have to talk about some raw topics in order to get a fuller, clearer understanding," Peters, a citizen of Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and a researcher and journalist, told TODAY Parents. "Quite honestly, cherry picking that moment when the Wampanoag and Puritans happen to break bread as the 'Kumbaya' moment really does not do it any justice. The Wampanoag have been marginalized and forgotten and the back story is so incredibly critical for what ultimately happens."
The November 20, 2020 episode, ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving?, from All My Relations Podcast.
"Thanksgiving is a time for people to come together with their families and give thanks for the blessings in their lives; but the American holiday is rooted in historical fallacy and upholds tired settler colonial belief systems. Instead, let's begin to understand the real story of Thanksgiving and the complex history undergirding this event in relation to Indigenous people. The path to reconciliation starts with honest acknowledgement of our past, with open eyes, and open hearts for a better future. It is time for us to be in good relation with one another. We can do that by learning and unlearning how to give thanks in a good way.
"Lies Your Teacher Taught You: The Truth about Thanksgiving," again, from All My Relations, the episode, centers the voice and experiences of a new teenager.
"[T]he first installment of a series…In this episode, we sit down with Matika and her 13-year-old nephew to teach about the true history of European and Native contact. As this episode is with a new teenager, we wanted to show that this is not a hard conversation to have, and most people do not want to be lied to – which is what rehashing the myth does."
Fab, funny, and future-looking, "All My Relations is a podcast hosted by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Dr. Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation) to explore our relationships— relationships to land, to our creatural relatives, and to one another. Each episode invites guests to delve into a different topic facing Native American peoples today. We keep it real, play some games, laugh a lot, and even cry sometimes. We invite you to join us!"
Matika Wilbur is a phenomenal photographer. Their recent endeavor, Project 562,
"is a multi-year national photography project dedicated to photographing over 562 federally recognized Tribes, urban Native communities, Tribes fighting for federal recognition and Indigenous role models in what is currently-known-as the United States, resulting in an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories that accurately portrays contemporary Native Americans. This creative, consciousness-shifting work will be widely distributed through national curricula, artistic publications, exhibitions, and online portals."
Check out this article for a discussion of "un-Thanksgiving," first held in 1970 and now organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE) as a National Day of Mourning.
"Thanksgiving, long a painful holiday for Native Americans, first came under sustained public attack in 1970. That's when officials of the state of Massachusetts vetted the text of an oration that Frank B. James, a Wampanoag leader, was slated to deliver at a banquet celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower's landing. Deeming James's impassioned narrative of stolen lands and broken promises off-key for the occasion, they promptly rescinded their invitation to break bread with him, thus inverting the very mythic, ancestral feast they were gathered to commemorate. But James didn't go away hungry–or silent. He found another outlet for his voice when, that Thanksgiving, he gathered with hundreds of other Native American protesters on Cole's Hill, the promontory above Plymouth Rock. There, they countered ritual with anti-ritual as they blanketed the rock with sand, dusted it off, and buried it again, thereby covering Thanksgiving with the first National Day of Mourning."
This video interview with [the late] Russell Means on Native American land rights, Thanksgiving, and the future for tribal cultures in the United States" offers a perspective from an influential activist whose story weaves contemporary and past struggles.
So, while many people are gathering to celebrate the federal holiday by being with family, others are gathering to celebrate the national holiday in remembrance of events that never happened the way mainstream USian history is taught, from K-12 and sometimes at university. Dominant historical narratives seldom accurately discuss the violence and sins of the founding fathers, except as redemption narratives. These omissions, reinterpretations, denials, and disavowal are related to an "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution. It's not just a legal interpretation but a historical perspective and methodology, an "originalist" interpretation of history is also about myth-making.
Why is this important? Because discussing the history, and ongoing consequences, of US colonialism, slavery, and Jim Crow is not done enough – whether at Thanksgiving or any time of the year. Because indigenous peoples' are still struggling to survive the ongoing project of settler colonialism. I know, I know, it's just a holiday. Perhaps. This holiday is supposedly not about a political discussion at the dinner table. Not having a political conversation at the dinner table is a political decision. Maybe anger is as well? Neutrality takes a position – in this case, to not discuss the history of the holiday known to some as Thanksgiving and others as a Day of Mourning.
Enjoy your meal with family and friends. Cheers to good conversations.