Thanksgiving in North America originated from a mix of European and Native traditions – festivals held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good, hopefully, harvest and to rejoice together after hard work. First Europeans that arrived in Americas also celebrated their safe voyage and peace. Hmm… peace. I wonder whether American Indians appreciated peaceful behavior of European colonists… By the way, I use the term “American Indians” and not “Native Americans” because, reportedly, most indigenous people don’t like the latter too much.
Let’s go back to the origins of Thanksgiving holiday. One of the earliest known Thanksgiving celebrations traces back to the 1621 feast in Plymouth, present-day Massachusetts. Want to know something interesting? Initially, the Plymouth folks didn’t have enough food to feed the colony, not to mention celebrating anything, so the Wampanoag Indians helped them by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. Nice. Friendly. Peaceful.
50 years later, 40% of the tribe died during King Philip’s War against the English colonists, most of the male survivors were sold into slavery in the West Indies, and women and children were enslaved in New England.
North American Indian population in 1500s was an estimated 12 million. In 1900s, it was barely 237,000 (according to Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado). 92% of American Indian population gone. Starting in the 1490s, when Christopher Columbus set foot on the Americas, ending with the 1890 massacre of Sioux at Wounded Knee by the United States military.
Mistreatment and exploitation, disease depopulation (often disturbingly deliberate), warfare, and, probably the most consequential, geographic displacement of native Indian tribes. Indian removal and the reservation system, which were the U.S. policies that originated from the shameful Manifest Destiny, resulted in cultural decline, fewer birth rates and higher death rates, which steadily lowered the indigenous population.
Is being forced to think about colonialism in North America and the origins of Thanksgiving make you at least a bit “uncomfortable”? Why is there no real recognition of genocide that happened during the establishment of the United States? Do you realize that in terms of sheer numbers, the American Indian Genocide exceeds that of the Holocaust?
In contrast to 1621, we don’t need help from American Indians to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in 2011. It’s American Indians that need something from us. Something both vast and rudimentary. Something meaningful that would “simply” live up to the definitions of such words as humility, humanity, remorse, responsibility.
Something that will never happen…
Instead, every year, we’ll continue to mindlessly and greedily consume huge amounts of turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy and whatever else. Not thinking about the shameful history and how it still makes some people suffer the consequences. Who likes to reminisce about the appalling parts of the U.S. history on such a festive day, anyway? It could cause indigestion.