“Some Who Feel No Reason For Thanksgiving”
To this day, I can hardly bear to think of that quintessentially American holiday—Thanksgiving.
When I do, however, I do not dwell on Pilgrims with wide black hats sitting to sup with red men, their long hair adorned with eagle feathers. I think not of turkeys or of cranberries, foods now traditional for the day of feast.
Unlike millions, I dont even think of the days football game. And not thinking of it, I dont watch it.
I think of the people we have habitually called Indians, the Indigenous people of the Americas; those millions who are no more.
I think of those precious few who remain, and wonder, what do they think of this day; this national myth of sweet brotherhood that masks what can only be called genocide?
Several years ago, I read a thin text that was pregnant with poignancy. It was a collection of Native remarks from the first tribes who encountered whites in New England, and down through several hundred years. Throughout it all, the same vibration could be felt, no matter what the clan or tribe—a profound sense of betrayal and wrong from people who were treated like brethren when they first arrived.
In New England, the name Powhatan (ca. 1547-1618) is still recalled (even if that wasn’t his name, but what the English called him). Known as Wahunsonacock by his people, he headed a confederacy of 32 tribes and governed an area of hundreds of miles. He was the father of Pocahontas, the young Indian maiden who saved the life of Capt. John Smith. A year after sparing Smiths life, the white captain threatened the great chief. This is some of his response given in 1609:
Why should you take by force that from us which you can have by love? Why should you destroy us, who have provided you with food? We can hide our provisions, and fly into the woods; and then you must consequently famish by wronging your friends. What is the cause of your jealousy? You see us unarmed, and willing to supply your wants, if you come in a friendly manner, and not with swords and guns, as to invade an enemy. I am not so simple, as not to know it is better to eat good meat, lie well, and sleep quietly with my women and children; to laugh and be merry with the English; and, being their friend, to have copper, hatchets, and whatever else I want, than to fly from all, to lie cold in the woods, feed upon acorns, roots, and such trash, and to be so hunted, that I cannot rest, eat, or sleep. In such circumstances, my men must watch, and if a twig should but break, all would cry out, Here comes Capt. Smith; and in this miserable manner, to end my miserable life; and, Capt. Smith, this might be soon your fate too, through your rashness and unadvisedness. I therefore, exhort you to peaceable councils; and, above all, I insist that the guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy and uneasiness, be removed and sent away. (Blaisdell, Bob, ed., Great Speeches by Native Americans. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Press, 2000, p.4.)
That great chiefs sentiments would be echoed for over hundreds of years, but injustice would just be piled on injustice. Genocide would be the white answer to red life.
Centuries later, what can Thanksgiving Day mean to Native peoples?
Thank you for stealing our land? Thank you for wiping out our people?
Thank you for placing a remnant of our once great numbers on rural ghettoes called reservations?
Thank you for abolishing most of the ancient traditions?
Thank you for poisoning what little Indian lands remain with uranium?
Thank you for poisoning the lands now inhabited by the whites?
Thank you for letting Indians fight in American wars against other people?
The real tragedy is that millions of Americans don’t know, and don’t want to know about Indian history and traditions.
Today, the names of rivers, lakes and landmarks bear indigenous markers of another age.
The people, except for an occasional movie, are mostly forgotten, out of mind, the easier to replace with false images of happy meals and turkey dinners. Happy Thanksgiving.