Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning

Photo: Native American Girls Gather At Plymouth For Day Of Mourning, November 26, 1992. By Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Photo: Native American Girls Gather At Plymouth For Day Of Mourning, November 26, 1992. By Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

By Allen Salway, Paper Magazine

Being a young, Native student in America during October to late-November is complete mental exhaustion. This time of year in particular, society continuously pushes us into oppressive climates where we are gaslighted through a series of holidays that either reimagine history, play on and exploit painful stereotypes, or both.

Columbus Day dresses up the genocide of our people as ‘civilizing us,’ Halloween perpetuates the stereotypical “Indian,” and the worst yet is Thanksgiving: the most nationalized, white-washed version of history ever to happen to a marginalized group. On top of the very real, everyday problems Natives currently still face, like living without running water or electricity, respected national institutions readily erase our history on this holiday. They mock us by wearing brown shirts to mimic our skin, using us in their plays and crafting sacred cultural items — like dream-catchers and headdresses — for classroom festivities.

Bear in mind, we Native Americans were prohibited from practicing our own culture until just under 40 years ago. But still, schools take aspects of our culture and distort them for fun and offensive activities, in the name of teaching ‘history.’

Click here to read the full article…

Allen Salway is a 20-year-old Diné, Oglala Lakota, Tohono O’odham student, writer and community organizer from the Navajo Nation. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

You cant have your decolonized cake and eat from colonialism to…

From Ancestral Pride:

Four years ago some very loving and kind ladies I met online at the WTE Sept babies forum, heard I was having a very hard time with paying rent, buying food, and then celebrating Christmas. They rallied round and we got a food hamper delivery, Christmas presents, and money for presents too. Then my cousin and his wife gave me their Christmas hamper from our nation as well. Wow. My heart was over flowing and how blessed I felt that my kids had presents to open and we had a turkey to cook for baby Jesus, and therein lies a huge reason why we stopped christmas and just said no to the addiction that is cheap consumer goods in the name of a god we don’t believe in and who’s followers tried their very best to commit genocide on us.

The stress, the capitalism, the unsatisfied kids and us when it came present time and no one got what they were wishing for. The fact that Santa was way nicer to kids with rich parents and we are not Christians nor have we ever been. How is it we could celebrate the birth of Jesus, and celebrate a religion that not only harmed us through residential schools and molestation, but also colonized and conquered so many of the indigenous cultures in their own land? Millions died to make Christianity the world power it is today and it felt like the worst kind of hypocrisy to perpetuate this belief system into our children’s psyche any longer, in my spirit I just knew something didn’t ring true and I felt I was disrespecting not only Christians but my ancestors. We have a rich and living culture with our own times of feasting, gifting, and celebrating. So why were we celebrating Christmas? How come it was so important to keep up the status quo and make sure my kids sat on a fat old white guys lap and tell him their wishes? Hope mongers, sad fact is that most ndn kids will not even get close to what they hoped for, or need at Christmas time. It seemed awful to tell them Christmas miracles happened and then year after year they see the lie and fallacy of pretending to be happy. Christmas is a great big facade over the veneer of dominant culture. Why do so many get depressed over the holidays? Why do so many commit suicides over the holidays rather than any other time of the year? This is because society feeds us a commercial lie, a lie that Christmas miracles happen, that all our troubles will be fixed, that instant credit will relieve of us debt for the month so we can purchase unrealistic items that will be swiftly forgotten over the year. Christmas has never solved anyone’s problems and in fact can create such a debt that people pay it off until the next year.

Christmas is for white people and is a lie, you don’t ever see anyone in the commercials and the ads in the malls that look like us. In all the shows and the Christmas specials on TV there is never any mention of our people or what we suffered through. Or for that matter you never see a commercial with a happy “first nations” family looking super rich and buying each other the latest $1000 tablet like assholes. We are the forgotten and hated bastard children of a society that would rather we were not here to make them feel uncomfortable.

Growing up the way I did, I lost faith in santa really early. Living in Buffalo New York with my mother were some of the coldest winters I had experienced in both my life and of course in actual degrees. Getting a broken slinky placed on the TV because we had no tree and watching my mama fake hilarity with drugs to make herself feel better for having nothing left a lingering hatred and sadness that to this day still hurts my little girl heart. I remember spending a Christmas with my dad and other mother. He told me before I went to bed about solstice and while I lay in bed and cried for my sisters and mama it was comforting to think of my ancestors dancing and singing by the firelight on the longest night of the year, celebrating something that was OURS and for us.

Giving it up was easy… for us. Not so much for the children, we still celebrate on the solstice and have food, presents, and family time but I know it is hard on them because we are “different” for the younger ones they are happy to be different and tell their classes we celebrate our own way. For the older ones they get it and love us and celebrate with us, but the middle ones the teens it’s harder for them to accept it. They still feel left out and weird, it’s hard on teens to be seen as different from the norm. They have asked us why, why can’t we be normal or be like other families. Why do we always have to do things in a way that no one else does. There is no easy answer for that and in struggling to find where we fit in this world that is seeking to assimilate us and create a global village of many different and beautiful cultures sometimes I feel lost in our goals as well. It would be way easier to just follow the colonial flow and participate in the death of our culture at the hands of cheap consumerism.

Mostly though crazy childhood aside (thanks genocide, manifest destiny, and colonization) I got tired of making snide comments on Christmas day. I got tired of being the “hater” and realized oh yes, I have free will; I am an autonomous being with a rich culture history and love of indigenous life. I felt shame and anger for participating in a celebration that felt weak to me and I felt bad for putting my feelings into the celebrations of those I loved. The situation was unfair to us all, it’s not my place to tell anyone how to celebrate but I can remove myself from that which carries such a heavy price tag and allow others the joy they feel but I cant bare to mimic any more. Not to say that I didn’t spend my fare share of years desperately trying to keep up with a mainstream ideal of what holidays are and spend a shit ton of money we didn’t have on a day I can now openly and with relief say I hate.

We have family members who are Christians and my husband and I respect their right to believe in what they believe in for any reason, as is there ‘god’ given right. For us though we knew and felt a different way was appropriate to us and our culture. We decided to stop celebrating a religion that was and still is central in the colonization of our people, our strength is in our resolve and we knew that to protect our own sense of history, self, and our indigenous identity we could no longer pretend. Our children deserve better. They deserve to know the reality of consumerism, corporatism, and Christianity, how the last 50 years in Canada is a big white washed lie and that we are not all participants in this scheme.

The children of our people have a right to know our own celebrations, have a right to be proud of whom they are. Reinforcement is needed to create a healthy relationship of our ways, many decry our culture is dying yet do nothing more than pay lip service to the teachings that are begging for us to recognize and revive them. This is so important to me, it is a dream to see our nations reclaiming our indigenous celebrations and celebrating them freely and proudly. It is ok for us not to be like the dominant culture, how freeing to know now is a time when it is not illegal to practice our ways, the Indian agent is not going to come and jail us for singing and dancing; anymore. The shame and the past history that has wounded us all even those yet to be born does not have to impact our spirits so deeply that we do not even remember our own ways. Reclaiming the very real and relevant holidays that our people enjoyed has to be much deeper and more involved then it is.

Today in these times of shopping malls, plastics, mining that impacts indigenous people for the electronics we so desperately need is not our way. Yes we are all complicit in attaching ourselves to these products and rabid consumerism. Christmas and Easter are the biggest scam in colonial history. Sacred ancient customs and reverent ceremonies have been taken and bastardized by corporate culture until it is so twisted today that it would be unrecognizable to the people from a century ago. I aint no angel and I have definitely been and am as GUILTY as the bible says Eve was for the original sin, yes I admit I get sucked into the consumer nightmare. BUT as I grow and evolve I can RESIST, and resist I do. We do not need to feel guilt or different for these acts of resurgence and sovereignty. Giving up Christmas is not a trend or a band wagon, it’s a jump into a whole world of unknown adventures, a lifestyle, living closely to the earth and feeling the pain our mama is enduring for our toys, purses, iPhones, make up, and toilet paper (another pet peeve for another time LOL). Not to mention ‘thanksgiving’ and the reality for indigenous of the new world eating turkey on a day celebrating contact and the beginning of our genocide is like Jewish people giving thanks and celebrating the day Hitler opened Auschwitz.

How can we be self determined if we are not reclaiming every last little bit that was stolen from us, beat from us, and shamed from us. How can we entertain the ideas of governing ourselves if we are not a culture whole and as intact as we can be after contact and colonization has damaged us so? Our elders are dying, literally for us to talk with them, learn from them, record their knowledge in our hearts and minds and share it with those younger than us. I suffer tremendous guilt and shame some times because even though I am busy and have plenty of beautiful brown babies to look after I still feel badly. I don’t visit enough, learn enough, or try harder.

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No Thanks to Thanksgiving

By Robert Jensen, AlterNet

One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.

In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.

Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits — which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.

That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.

But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin — the genocide of indigenous people — is of special importance today. It’s now routine — even among conservative commentators — to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.

One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.

Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it’s also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.

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Genocide and the Thanksgiving Myth


“Enlightened and Christian Warfare in the 19th Century–Massacre of Indian Women and Children in Idaho” published in “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated,” August 1868.


The Defining and Enabling Experience of Our “Civilization”

By S. Brian Willson, Popular Resistance

As we again plan to celebrate what US “Americans”call Thanksgiving, let us pause for a moment of reflection. Let us recognize that accounts of the first Thanksgiving are mythological, and that the holiday is actually a grotesque celebration of our arrogant ethnocentrism built on genocide.

Native Americans in the Caribbean greeted their 1492 European invaders with warm hospitality. They were so innocent that Genoan Cristoforo Colombo wrote in his log, They willingly traded everything they owned . . . They do not bear arms . . . They would make fine servants . . . They could easily be made Christians . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. This meeting set in motion a 500+-year plunder of the Western Hemisphere, which then spread to the remainder of the globe. And it has not stopped!

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Happy National Genocide (Thanksgiving) Day!

By Nicole Breedlove, Huffington Post

Thanksgiving has never been a celebratory holiday in my family. Whenever my family did cook we always gave thanks that all the Native Americans weren’t wiped out when Columbus “discovered” America. I never understood why my family was so against Thanksgiving. In school we drew turkeys with our hands and it was a happy time. It meant a couple of days off from school. My teachers made it seem like Thanksgiving was a holiday to look forward to. The New York City public education system told me what Thanksgiving was all about. I was very careful to regurgitate what they taught me when tested so I wouldn’t get a failing grade. When I was older though I was told the truth by my family.

My great, great, great, great grandfather was a part of a band of Black Indians in Florida, hence my unique and Native American-sounding last name. It seems I come from a long line of warriors and activists. I am a revolutionary not by choice but by lineage. When I did finally learn, there was no stopping me. Whenever someone asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving I proudly stated that I no longer celebrate it. Thanksgiving day should be known as National Land Theft and American Genocide Day.

I learned that in 1637 the body of a white man was discovered dead in a boat. Armed settlers — which we tell our children were God fearing, gentle, sharing, kind Pilgrims — invaded a Pequot village. They also set the village, which included many children, on fire. Those who were lucky enough to escape the fire were systematically sought, hunted down and killed. While many, including historians, still debate what exactly happened this day, also known as the Pequot Massacre, it directly led to the creation of “Thanksgiving Day.” This is what the governor of Bay Colony had to say days after the massacre, “A day of thanksgiving. Thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.”

William B. Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the Anthropology Department at the University of Connecticut stated, “Gathered in this place of meeting, they were attacked by mercenaries and English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from the building and as they came forth were shot down, The rest were burned alive in the building. The very next day the governor declared a Thanksgiving Day. For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

When I finally found out the origins of Thanksgiving it made me nauseous. Never again will I celebrate a holiday I know nothing about until I investigate its origins. I am very thankful, pun intended, that I learned about the origins of this holiday. It is a reminder that history can be rewritten and if told enough times eventually becomes the truth!

People always tell me to forget the past. I should just let it go and move on. Why do people of color always have to forget?! Would you tell a Jewish person to forget about the holocaust and just move on?! Would you tell the family of those who lost their lives on 9/11 to just forget about it?! So why are our tragedies forgettable and others are not?! I WILL NEVER forget! I will ALWAYS honor those who lost their lives unjustifiable.

So when you sit down to dinner this year, look at your family, serve the food and tell each other what you are most thankful for, think about the origins of Thanksgiving. Think about the countless Native Americans who lost their lives so you can carve a turkey and get the best deals on Black Friday. Say a prayer for them, especially the children, who died simply because of the color of their skin.

Why I’m Thankful for 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance & Why You Should Be To

By Matt Remle, Last Real Indians

“There is resistance: in Canada it’s coming from First Nations. But it’s worth remembering that that’s a world-wide phenomenon. Throughout the world, the indigenous populations are in the lead. They are actually taking the lead in trying to protect the earth….It’s pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.” ~ Noam Chomsky

Starting in 1452, under the guise of the Papal Bull Romanus Pontifex and later the 1493 Papal Bull Inter Cetera, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery, European Christians began their efforts to expand colonial rule, and the Christian Empire, throughout the world.

These Papal Bulls sanctioned European Christian Nations to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ, to put them into perpetual slavery, and to take all their possessions and property” and were authorized “to take possession of any lands discovered that were not under the dominion of any Christian rulers.

Early colonial efforts centered on the western coast of Africa as Portugal “claimed” lands and engaged in the trafficking of African slaves. Spain was quick to follow suit in efforts to “claim” the lands that Columbus had “discovered.” Other European Christian Nations were to later engage in efforts to claim lands, resources, and slaves from the Caribbean Islands to throughout what is now called North, Central and South America extending out the Pacific Islands.

From the onset Indigenous communities have actively resisted colonial efforts. On Columbus’s return voyage to Spain to both report his findings and gather men and materials needed for colonization efforts, he had left about 35 men who were subsequently wiped out by Taino warriors. Resistance to colonization had begun.

Similar scenes of European colonization efforts were repeated with similar responses of Indigenous resistance over the next several hundred years.

The goals of settler colonial state have always been the same, remove Indigenous populations whether through extermination, relocation or assimilation, appropriate lands and resources and expand the reaches of the settler state.

In its wake, 500 years of colonization and European expansionism has brought unparalleled loss of life through mass campaigns of genocide and enslavement, as well as, mass extinction of our other non-human relatives. Maka Ina, Mother Earth, has bore the brunt of this mass desecration and devastation with the loss of forests, pollution of waters and lands.

While Indigenous communities have suffered the greatest impacts of colonization, the environmental impacts can now be felt by all communities. We are living in a time when our first medicine, Mni (water), is both being polluted to the point where no species can drink it and being overused to where underground aquifers are drying up.

Despite colonial efforts to exterminate, terminate, relocate, and assimilate Indigenous populations, Native communities continue to resist efforts to both desecrate Maka Ina and strip Native peoples of their languages, spirituality and communties. From the Mayan Zapatista’s resistance against neo-liberalism, to 1st Nations uprisings against tar sands and hydraulic fracturing, Indigenous peoples continue to resist the efforts of the colonial settler state.

Whether non-Indigenous peoples realize it, or not, these acts of resistance benefit you, your children and your generations to come in that the battles being waged are for life itself. All beings need clean water to drink, clean air to breath and non-polluted foods to eat.

All beings were given original instructions, instructions in how to live as a relative with all relations, how to live for the continuance of life itself. Daily, our other relatives, those seen and unseen, continue to fulfill their roles and responsibilities for life to exist. With the exception of some Indigenous communities most “humans” have strayed from our roles and responsibilities. Because of that, it is no surprise we find ourselves in such a state of unbalance.

On this day I give wopila, thanks, to all those who continue in the 500 year old resistance to colonization.  Mitakuyepi, my relatives, continue to relearn your traditional languages, go to ceremony, strengthen your relationships with your relatives and stand for Maka Ina and the generations yet to come.

Mitakuye oyasin
Wakinyan Waanatan (Matt Remle)

Mumia Abu-Jamal “Some Who Feel No Reason For Thanksgiving”

“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.

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Teaching (and Not Teaching) Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Crafts For Children, Draw The Indian Face. Image from Artists Helping Children

Thanksgiving Crafts For Children, Draw The Indian Face. Image from Artists Helping Children

By Maya Mikdashi, Jadaliyya

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On Thursday millions of families and friends and colleagues will gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. Universities will be closed, and classes will be cancelled. Every year, this holiday weekend poses challenges to professors and students who are critical, and critically aware, of the fact that Thanksgiving is, foundationally speaking, a celebration of the ongoing genocide against native peoples and cultures in the United States.

As a newly minted professor who mainly teaches on questions of law, power and gender in anthropology courses centered on the Middle East, I admit that this week causes me anxiety. How do we recognize and teach, in constructive and productive ways, the relationship between US settler colonialism and Israeli settler colonialism, for example? How do we do so in classrooms and institutions where many of our students and colleagues are critical of Israel’s colonial practices? How can we use Thanksgiving to underscore that we, those who live work and love in the United States, are ourselves settlers (even if critical settlers) within a settler colonial society and state? How might this understanding force us to think critically about how to teach the Middle East and issues related to that region from the geographic location of a settler colony that happens to be the world’s strongest state and a state that is locked in an imperial relationship with the contemporary Middle East? Most importantly, how do we underscore these connections in a way that empowers our students and their critical faculties and activities, rather than immobilizes them?

I do not think that there are answers to these questions, at least none that are satisfactory. In fact, I think it is impossible to have “the answer,” as pedagogy is always more about interrogating rather than resolving. I still believe, however, that is important to think and ask that which cannot, and can never, be satisfactorily answered. As a teacher, I struggle with ways to recognize and engage deeply with US settler colonialism—not only in ways that segregate its lessons to the week of Thanksgiving and not only in ways that confine the analysis to a comparative framework with Israel or colonial projects that included settlers, such as French Algeria (although these connections are vitally important). For example, it is important to continue to underscore the ties between the birth of liberalism and capitalist understandings of land ownership on the one hand, and the settling of North and South America and its attendant genocides on the other. Robert A. Williams’ work has been instructive on this point. This is not to somehow write off liberalism and capitalism as ontologially racist and built on dispossession (which clearly they are) but rather to understand and sit (perhaps uncomfortably) with how what we call “civilization,” and the ways that our very grounded and quotidian attachment to liberal modernity, is built upon and sustained through barbarity towards others. Thus studies of capitalism and liberalism, and their colonial trafficking in the Middle East, are always already imbricated historically with the practices of settling the North and South America and the racial logics undergirding that genocide—just as they are imbricated with histories of slavery, indentured servitude and capital logics and accumulations.

Throughout history, colonized people have been tasked with proving that they are, and deserve to be, part of the “family of man”—to prove themselves worthy of independence and freedom. From Sudan to India to Palestine to Haiti to Ireland, the colonized—whether in a settler, slave, or franchise colonies— have been asked the same question: Are you human (enough)? The answer, provided by the colonizer, has almost inevitably been: You could be when I am done with you—but not yet. It is this deferral of recognition, coupled with a redemptive teleology of an enlightenment that can only come from outside— that has undergirded some of the most violent aspects of colonial history—as Frantz Fanon, Ward Churchill, Robert Williams and Michel Roulph Trouillout have demonstrated. A progenitor of this question was perhaps “are they human?” Across the United States and Australia during early moments of colonial contact, for example, the answer was an emphatic no. An entire body of early European Christian jurisprudence was built around the question of whether or not Native Americans were human, whether or not they had a soul, and if that soul could be redeemed even if the body was expendable. Just as with jurisprudence that was formed through engagement with the transatlantic slave trade, we are still living and struggling within those legal legacies. After all, the concept and architecture of “human rights” emerged from the horrors of WWII, after the ability to both alienate and collapse the rights of citizenship from the rights of man enabled a Holocaust. Law and violence are inextricably linked and in fact produce and reproduce each other. This is true even for laws that purposely try to mitigate violence. While the legal category of “genocide” emerged too late to retroactively encompass much of settler colonial violence, this social science “fact” can leave one deeply uncomfortable. After all, just because “3/5th” clause was removed from the US constitution in 1865 does not mean that prior to that slavery in the United States was not a crime against humans—even if at that time such a statement was legally (though not ethically) impossible. These are ways of rendering the past complete and drawing lines in the sand between us, who (now) know better, and our ancestors, who lived within a different epistemological universe.

Faced with such ambiguities, it is crucial to continue to underscore the fact that the United States is today actively engaged in settling and colonizing native lands and people. Patrick Wolfe’s formulation concerning the temporality of settler colonialism: [that] invasion is a structure not an event, is instructive. As he and others have suggested, settler colonialism is ongoing—and it is precisely the definition of settlement as temporally bounded that enables it to continue with ease in the United States, as Scott Morgensen recently argued. Once relegated to the past, the catastrophe of settlement is tamed and we appear helpless before it. In this framework the settlement of the United States is not our problem, and it is we who inherit this past and must then distance ourselves from its’ gross inequalities and violences.

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What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale

This is a popular image of the first Thanksgiving, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. But this is definitely NOT what happened.

This is a popular image of the first Thanksgiving, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. But this is definitely NOT what happened.

By Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today

When you hear about the Pilgrims and “the Indians” harmoniously sharing the “first Thanksgiving” meal in 1621, the Indians referred to so generically are the ancestors of the contemporary members of the Wampanoag Nation. As the story commonly goes, the Pilgrims who sailed from England on the Mayflower and landed at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 had a good harvest the next year. So Plymouth Gov. William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the harvest and invited a group of “Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit” to the party. The feast lasted three days and, according to chronicler Edward Winslow, Bradford send four men on a “fowling mission” to prepare for the feast and the Wampanoag guests brought five deer to the party. And ever since then, the story goes, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November. Not exactly, Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer told Indian Country Today Media Network in a conversation on the day before Thanksgiving 2012—391 years since that mythological “first Thanksgiving.”

We know what we’re taught in mainstream media and in schools is made up. What’s the Wampanoag version of what happened?

Yeah, it was made up. It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.

So it was a political thing?

Yes, it was public relations. It’s kind of genius, in a way, to get people to sit down and eat dinner together. Families were divided during the Civil War.

So what really happened?

We made a treaty. The leader of our nation at the time—Yellow Feather Oasmeequin [Massasoit] made a treaty with (John) Carver [the first governor of the colony]. They elected an official while they were still on the boat. They had their charter. They were still under the jurisdiction of the king [of England]—at least that’s what they told us. So they couldn’t make a treaty for a boatload of people so they made a treaty between two nations—England and the Wampanoag Nation.

What did the treaty say?

It basically said we’d let them be there and we would protect them against any enemies and they would protect us from any of ours. [The 2011 Native American copy coin commemorates the 1621 treaty between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony.] It was basically an I’ll watch your back, you watch mine’ agreement. Later on we collaborated on jurisdictions and creating a system so that we could live together.

What’s the Mashpee version of the 1621 meal?

You’ve probably heard the story of how Squanto assisted in their planting of corn? So this was their first successful harvest and they were celebrating that harvest and planning a day of their own thanksgiving. And it’s kind of like what some of the Arab nations do when they celebrate by shooting guns in the air. So this is what was going on over there at Plymouth. They were shooting guns and canons as a celebration, which alerted us because we didn’t know who they were shooting at. So Massasoit gathered up some 90 warriors and showed up at Plymouth prepared to engage, if that was what was happening, if they were taking any of our people. They didn’t know. It was a fact-finding mission.

When they arrived it was explained through a translator that they were celebrating the harvest, so we decided to stay and make sure that was true, because we’d seen in the other landings—[Captain John] Smith, even the Vikings had been here—so we wanted to make sure so we decided to camp nearby for a few days. During those few days, the men went out to hunt and gather food—deer, ducks, geese, and fish. There are 90 men here and at the time I think there are only 23 survivors of that boat, the Mayflower, so you can imagine the fear. You have armed Natives who are camping nearby. They [the colonists] were always vulnerable to the new land, new creatures, even the trees—there were no such trees in England at that time. People forget they had just landed here and this coastline looked very different from what it looks like now. And their culture—new foods, they were afraid to eat a lot of things. So they were very vulnerable and we did protect them, not just support them, we protected them. You can see throughout their journals that they were always nervous and, unfortunately, when they were nervous they were very aggressive.

So the Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoags to sit down and eat turkey and drink some beer?

[laughs] Ah, no. Well, let’s put it this way. People did eat together [but not in what is portrayed as “the first Thanksgiving]. It was our homeland and our territory and we walked all through their villages all the time. The differences in how they behaved, how they ate, how they prepared things was a lot for both cultures to work with each other. But in those days, it was sort of like today when you go out on a boat in the open sea and you see another boat and everyone is waving and very friendly—it’s because they’re vulnerable and need to rely on each other if something happens. In those days, the English really needed to rely on us and, yes, they were polite as best they could be, but they regarded us as savages nonetheless.

So you did eat together sometimes, but not at the legendary Thanksgiving meal.

No. We were there for days. And this is another thing: We give thanks more than once a year in formal ceremony for different season, for the green corn thanksgiving, for the arrival of certain fish species, whales, the first snow, our new year in May—there are so many ceremonies and I think most cultures have similar traditions. It’s not a foreign concept and I think human beings who recognize greater spirit then they would have to say thank you in some formal way.

What are Mashpee Wampanoags taught about Thanksgiving now?

Most of us are taught about the friendly Indians and the friendly Pilgrims and people sitting down and eating together. They really don’t go into any depth about that time period and what was going on in 1620. It was a whole different mindset. There was always focus on food because people had to work hard to go out and forage for food, not the way it is now. I can remember being in Oklahoma amongst a lot of different tribal people when I was in junior college and Thanksgiving was coming around and I couldn’t come home—it was too far and too expensive—and people were talking about, Thanksgiving, and, yeah, the Indians! And I said, yeah, we’re the Wampanoags. They didn’t know! We’re not even taught what kind of Indians, Hopefully, in the future, at least for Americans, we do need to get a lot brighter about other people.

So, basically, today the Wampanoag celebrate Thanksgiving the way Americans celebrate it, or celebrate it as Americans?

Yes, but there’s another element to this that needs to be noted as well. The Puritans believed in Jehovah and they were listening for Jehovah’s directions on a daily basis and trying to figure out what would please their God. So for Americans, for the most part there’s a Christian element to Thanksgiving so formal prayer and some families will go around the table and ask what are you thankful for this year. In Mashpee families we make offerings of tobacco. For traditionalists, we give thanks to our first mother, our human mother, and to Mother Earth. Then, because there’s no real time to it you embrace your thanks in passing them into the tobacco without necessarily speaking out loud, but to actually give your mind and spirit together thankful for so many things… Unfortunately, because we’re trapped in this cash economy and this 9-to-5 [schedule], we can’t spend the normal amount of time on ceremonies, which would last four days for a proper Thanksgiving.

Do you regard Thanksgiving as a positive thing?

As a concept, a heartfelt Thanksgiving is very important to me as a person. It’s important that we give thanks. For me, it’s a state of being. You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You use your talents. You find out what those are and you cultivate them and that gives thanks in action.

And will your family do something for Thanksgiving?

Yes, we’ll do the rounds, make sure we contact family members, eat with friends and then we’ll all celebrate on Saturday at the social and dance together with the drum.

Related articles:

Latest copy Coin Celebrates 1621 Wampanoag Treaty

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

Also on Unsettling America:

A Day To Give Thanks?

Cooking the History Books: The Thanksgiving Massacre

The Original Occupation: Native Blood & the Myth of Thanksgiving

The REAL Story of Thanksgiving (video)

Thanksgiving: A Native American View (video)

Statement From Leonard Peltier for National Day of Mourning

Via the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee:

Greeting my relatives, friends, and supporters,

It is with great honor that I get a chance to speak with you even though it’s a written message that someone has to read.

I’m saddened that we have to call this a Day of Mourning, but we must take every opportunity to remind this nation when it comes to keeping their word about treaties, about human rights, about the environment, about excess pollution – that it has failed miserably on all of those concerns.  Also want to remind the major religions that speak about peace and love and brotherhood and are celebrating this thing called Thanksgiving, that we the native people of this land realistically overall have nothing to truly be thankful about regarding the arrival of the pilgrims.

And I would also like to remind the major various religions of this country that in all their teachings it says you reap what you sow.  And if that is a true statement, if that is the law given by the Creator, then you have to only look around at the news of the day to see that that statement is coming to pass. This country is not keeping its solemn word under god that it gave regarding our treaties.  And they don’t keep their own Scriptures that say not to bear false witness or lie.  They’ve tried to keep us from honoring our fathers by destroying our culture.  They violated their word where it says “thou shalt not kill”, violated every one of their commandments regarding our people in this land.  And they will truly reap what they sow.

I also want to say that in the spirit of compassion and reason, and fairness, and forgiveness, that its never too late to turn things around.  Actually I should say that’s not quite correct, it can be too late.  There’s an old Cheyenne saying that a nation is never destroyed until the hearts of its women are on the ground.  And if you look around you will see the decline of America.  And it is entirely possible that that teaching is not far off.  One thing as a people that we do have to be thankful for and thankful to the Creator only, we are still alive we are still a people.  And we still know who we are, we still have a commitment to the Creator to protect this land, we still have a commitment to protect the laws of nature that were given unto us, to our ancestors.  We are probably the only people on this continent that would be better off if this whole system fell apart.  Because we possess the knowledge, the teaching and the culture to live in harmony with that which the Creator has given us.

I want to encourage all the young people, to always remember your health and the health of the earth are the most important things that you possess.  And that self-discipline is the most important thing that you can learn.  And taking responsibility for ourselves and our future is the most empowering thing that we can do.  Right now you are listening to my words the words of a man in prison for 30 something years.  A man who has had limited contact and yet I am able to speak to you now.  And the reason I am saying this is because with all the freedom that you do possess you could do so much more.  Educate yourself to our true history, educate yourself to what is really going on today, and educate yourself as to what needs to be done to make a better tomorrow for yourselves and your children’s children, our future generations.

Again I want to say I am just an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances.   There is nothing that I have done or said that you cannot do or say and much better because you possess more freedom than I do.  We need each other.  If I am ever to be free, I need you.  And the truth is, none of us are truly free right now, because any people who is afraid of their government, is not free.  We all need to be warriors of one.  Each needs to know how to defend themselves on any level.  And as I’ve said before we need to recapture the freedoms we’ve lost and protect the ones we still have.

In closing I want to encourage each and every one of you to stand up in your own way in whatever way you can for what’s right, try to right what’s wrong and know that in my heart and in whatever way I can help you,  that I will be with you.  We need each other, you need each other, and we need the help of all peoples to correct this great damage that is taking place throughout the earth.  Our battle is not with a race a people or a color, our battle is with ignorance and greed that is ruling the governments of men today.

Again I want to thank you and in the spirit of crazy horse and all those beautiful people that have stood up for what’s right in the past, and the ones standing up now.  Stay strong and support one another,

Your Friend Always and in All Ways,

Leonard Peltier