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The “myth of thanksgiving” linkspam

Thanksgiving is on us.

Wednesday Addams

So, I thought a post would be cool.

(Earlier video was replaced due to well-argued objection)

delux_vivens linked me to Deconstructing the Myth of Thanksgiving

Myth #1: “The First Thanksgiving” occurred in 1621.

Fact: No one knows when the “first” thanksgiving occurred. People have been giving thanks for as long as people have existed. Indigenous nations all over the world have celebrations of the harvest that come from very old traditions; for Native peoples, thanksgiving comes not once a year, but every day, for all the gifts of life. To refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as “The First Thanksgiving” disappears Indian peoples in the eyes of non-Native children.

Myth #7: The Pilgrims invited the Indians to celebrate the First Thanksgiving.

Fact: According to oral accounts from the Wampanoag people, when the Native people nearby first heard the gunshots of the hunting colonists, they thought that the colonists were preparing for war and that Massasoit needed to be informed. When Massasoit showed up with 90 men and no women or children, it can be assumed that he was being cautious. When he saw there was a party going on, his men then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys. (8)

In addition, both the Wampanoag and the English settlers were long familiar with harvest celebrations. Long before the Europeans set foot on these shores, Native peoples gave thanks every day for all the gifts of life, and held thanksgiving celebrations and giveaways at certain times of the year. The Europeans also had days of thanksgiving, marked by religious services. So the coming together of two peoples to share food and company was not entirely a foreign thing for either. But the visit that by all accounts lasted three days was most likely one of a series of political meetings to discuss and secure a military alliance. Neither side totally trusted the other: The Europeans considered the Wampanoag soulless heathens and instruments of the devil, and the Wampanoag had seen the Europeans steal their seed corn and rob their graves. In any event, neither the Wampanoag nor the Europeans referred to this feast/meeting as “Thanksgiving.” (9)me here fully intending to take the land away from its Native inhabitants and establish a new nation, their “Holy Kingdom.” The Plimoth colonists were never concerned with “freedom of religion” for anyone but themselves. (2)

Myth #10: The Pilgrims and Indians became great friends.

Fact: A mere generation later, the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England.” That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War,” most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians. (13)MORE

Myth 10 leads us right into: The Massacre For Which Thanksgiving Is Named Part 1.


By Douglas Watts

I was born on soil soaked with blood

Where the head of King Philip was ground in the mud

By the Pilgrims of Plymouth, and their first born sons.

They put his head on a spike and let it rot in the sun.

Shackled his children and family.

Shipped them to Barbados and sold them into slavery.

Now they taught me in grade school

About the first Thanksgiving

How Massasoit and Squanto kept the Pilgrims living.

But the teachers never told us what happened next.

How the head of King Philip was chopped off at the neck.

The teachers never told us what happened next.

How the head of Pometacom was sawed off at the neck.

The teachers never told us what the Pilgrims did

To Massasoit’s second son.

They put his head on a spike and let it rot in the sun.

The teachers never told us what they did

To kids who swam in the same brooks as me.

They put their legs in iron chains and sold them into slavery. Here’s what happened

The Massacre for which Thanksgiving is Named Part 2

Rethinking Thanksgiving offers suggestions to teachers on how to deal with the holiday.

I challenge my students’ knowledge about Pilgrims, Indians, and Thanksgiving through a series of exploratory activities using elementary-appropriate materials. I designed activities meant to model how they might introduce a critique of Thanksgiving to their own elementary students that also identifies stereotypes about Native Americans and explores the events surrounding 1621. The activities require my students to work first within and then across small groups to compare and contrast the histories of the “Indians” and “Pilgrims,” separate fact from fiction about the Thanksgiving story, and uncover new information concerning Native Americans past and present.

For one activity, I divide a set of students into “Indians” and “Pilgrims.” Both groups visit, a website elementary teachers and students could use that offers an interactive timeline with key dates in the history of the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims. I send the students to the “path to 1621” for their respective group’s story. The “Indians” follow the Wampanoag ancestor Ahsaupwis’ story and the “Pilgrims” follow English ancestor Remember Allerton. In the penultimate phase of the activity, I combine the “Indians” and “Pilgrims” and tell them to create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting what they learned.

Charlie commented, “I remember making the feather headdress for Thanksgiving. I had no idea it could be inaccurate, let alone inappropriate.” Students often remark on the cultural disrespect implicit in illustrating Thanksgiving stories with clothing that the Wampanoag didn’t wear.

By the end of our re-examination of Thanksgiving, students grow anxious and begin to consider if and how they might integrate a more critical perspective of Thanksgiving with their own students. As Iris later wrote:

So, how do we go about talking about Thanksgiving now that we have all of this new information? How should we treat it with our students? Truly, it is not a day of Thanksgiving for all people in this country. I am at a loss now. I think that we could approach it with the new information that Ms. Stenhouse gave us and debunk some of these myths for our students, but I’m beginning to question what the bigger message should be. Is the holiday real? Is there really something to celebrate? I mean, sure, I’m glad to be here, and I’m thankful for the blessings in my life, but am I celebrating at the expense of others? If I do teach my children that the coming of the settlers was at the indigenous people’s expense, will they want to continue celebrating this day? Will their parents thank me if I do? I am not sure how to proceed.MORE

Robert Jenson in Alternet this in 2005No Thanks to Thanksgiving in which he advocated:

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.

How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? Here’s how “respectable” politicians, pundits, and professors play the game: When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand wringing about the younger generations’ lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history.

But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable — such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States — suddenly the value of history drops precipitously and one is asked, “Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?”

After a backlash, including from liberals, to his surprise, he wrote this in 2007 Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Thanksgiving

At this point in history, anyone who wants to know this reality of U.S. history — that the extermination of indigenous peoples was, both in a technical, legal sense and in common usage, genocide — can easily find the resources to know. If this idea is new, I would recommend two books, David E. Stannard’s American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World and Ward Churchill’s A Little Matter of Genocide. While the concept of genocide, which is defined as the deliberate attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” came into existence after World War II, it accurately describes the program that Europeans and their descendants pursued to acquire the territory that would become the United States of America.

Once we know that, what do we do? The moral response — that is, the response that would be consistent with the moral values around justice and equality that most of us claim to hold — would be a truth-and-reconciliation process that would not only correct the historical record but also redistribute land and wealth. In the white-supremacist and patriarchal society in which we live, operating within the parameters set by a greed-based capitalist system, such a process is hard to imagine in the short term. So, the question for left/radical people is: What political activity can we engage in to keep alive this kind of critique until a time when social conditions might make a truly progressive politics possible?

In short: Once we know, what do we do in a world that is not yet ready to know, or knows but will not deal with the consequences of that knowledge?MORE

He seems to write these things every two years. His third essay on the topic is How I Stopped Hating Thanksgiving and Learned to Be Afraid

In recent years I have refused to participate in Thanksgiving Day meals, even with friends and family who share this critical analysis and reject the national mythology around manifest destiny. In bowing out of those gatherings, I would often tell folks that I hated Thanksgiving. I realize now that “hate” is the wrong word to describe my emotional reaction to the holiday. I am afraid of Thanksgiving. More accurately, I am afraid of what Thanksgiving tells us about both the dominant culture and much of the alleged counterculture.

Here’s what I think it tells us: As a society, the United States is intellectually dishonest, politically irresponsible, and morally bankrupt. This is a society in which even progressive people routinely allow national and family traditions to trump fundamental human decency. It’s a society in which, in the privileged sectors, getting along and not causing trouble are often valued above honesty and accountability. Though it’s painful to consider, it’s possible that such a society is beyond redemption. Such a consideration becomes frightening when we recognize that all this goes on in the most affluent and militarily powerful country in the history of the world, but a country that is falling apart — an empire in decline.

Thanksgiving should teach us all to be afraid.

The next step for me is to seek creative ways to use the tension around this holiday for political purposes, to highlight the white-supremacist and predatory nature of the dominant culture, then and now. Is it possible to find a way to bring people together in public to contest the values of the dominant culture? How can those of us who want to reject that dominant culture meet our intellectual, political, and moral obligations? How can we act righteously without slipping into self-righteousness? What strategies create the most expansive space possible for honest engagement with others? MORE

Resist Racism has a great linkspam, Thanksgiving and Racism, the last three links of which are Robert Jensen’s. Great minds think alike? Nah. Great googling links alike:)

Thanksgiving: A Native perspective This is a Review

(Please Note:The following blog owner had a dustup on trans issues recently, so I don’t usually follow it. But the second link has some especially good links, so I’ll make an exception.)
What if you would like to give thanks for capitalism? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving part 1)

What if Thanksgiving was not about happy Pilgrims sharing turkey with industrious Natives, but about giving thanks for a successful massacre? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving, Part 2) One link I’d like to extract from Part 2 is this one Lets give thanks for selective memories on Thanksgiving.

Everyone knows that the United States was first settled in 1620.  Everyone is wrong.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I decided that it would be good medicine to re-read the chapter on Thanksgiving in James Loewen’s iconoclastic classic, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (1995). It was well worth the effort.

The first “settlers,” of course, were the indigenous Americans, “Indians,” who settled the North American continent at least 9000 years ago, perhaps much longer.  To suggest that anyone other than Native Americans first “settled” this land is a silly proposition with racist overtones.

Setting aside the fact that Native Americans were here first, we shouldn’t forget that African slaves still preceded the Pilgrims by almost 100 years.  Those first African slaves arrived in present day United States as part of the San Miguel de Gualdape colony (most likely located in the Winyah Bay  area of present-day South Carolina, founded by Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón  in 1526. As indicated in the above Wikipedia article, the ill-fated colony was almost immediately disrupted by a fight over leadership, during which the slaves revolted and fled the colony to seek refuge among local Native Americans, where they remained.

And that’s just the earliest pre-Pilgrim settlers.  MORE

Meantime, this is fascinating: The making of the domestic occasion: the history of Thanksgiving in the United States

The history of Thanksgiving is hallowed ground for antiquarians, popular writers, and even an occasional anthropologist.(9) The story begins with the Pilgrims who held a feast for themselves and their Wampanoag neighbors in October of 1621. [Remember kids, we have just spent most of the preceding links debunking this. Moving on…] Prior to Lincoln, three presidents, George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison, issued ad hoc proclamations of a national day of thanksgiving. Nonetheless, Thanksgiving in the early nineteenth century was mainly popular in New England and to a lesser extent the mid-Atlantic states. As of the 1850s, Thanksgiving was a legal holiday only in these states and in Texas.

Prior to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863 of an annual national holiday in November, Thanksgiving was a regional day, both secular and religious. In early nineteenth century New England Thanksgiving day might begin with a morning church service, followed by the large meal in the afternoon. Before or after attending church, men, musket in hand, might take aim at a wild turkey in the fields, or at paper targets. The winner usually won a turkey as his prize for good marksmanship. The food at the feast was bountiful but the setting was relatively modest. Most families did not own a long wooden dining table. They might have had a smaller one, which was set up in a sitting room, parlor, or the bedroom – any room that could be kept warm in winter. There were probably only two courses to the meal, the food for the main meal spread on the table, and the desserts served later.(10) Because the roads were poor, muddy or snow-covered, many relatives, eager to return home for the holidays, were unable to do so.

Hale, Lincoln, and the Tolerance of Misrule

Through the efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale, and later Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving became a holiday of the Union, with limited acceptance in the Southern states.(11) The editor of Godey’s magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, issued yearly editorials beginning in 1846 encouraging the “Great American Festival” of Thanksgiving. Hale wrote letters to governors of states and territories, overseas missionaries, and navy commanders urging them to celebrate Thanksgiving and in the case of the governors, to make Thanksgiving a legal holiday. Hale hoped that a unifying holiday would help avert the prospect of a civil war. Instead, the victory at Gettysburg as well as Hale’s entreaties encouraged Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to declare a national day of thanksgiving in November.MORE

4 thoughts on “The “myth of thanksgiving” linkspam”

  1. Polenth says:

    As someone outside the US, I admit I’ve never understood thanksgiving. Colonial domination isn’t something to celebrate. The Addams family sums up my idea of it…

    Harvest I understand though. My family usually has a harvest meal in October. It’s a different kind of idea though. Harvest celebrations give thanks for the past year. They don’t focus on the good or bad of the years before that. It’s more about taking one year at a time.

  2. Rose Fox says:

    What an excellent post. Thank you so much. I’ve forwarded it to my family to explain why I’m glad we already agreed to skip the usual Thanksgiving bash on Thursday and instead get together for a small, quiet dinner on Friday. I also suggested they donate to the Native American Rights Fund, since we’re all really interested in social justice and the law.

    I am surprised that almost no mention is made here (though it may be in the links, I haven’t followed all of them) of the Christian nature of the holiday. Not only are there issues with what we’re supposed to be thankful for but whom–or Whom–we’re supposed to be thankful to, which of course goes back to the Pilgrims’ religious motivations for massacring the natives and claiming the land. I wish more Christians would pay attention to this history and all the ways it contradicts the teachings of the Prince of Peace.

  3. Napalmnacey says:

    Here in Australia, we eat Turkey and are thankful on Christmas. Especially since most people aren’t religious and don’t actually spend the holiday thinking about Jesus.

    I think our “Thanksgiving” day of horror would be Australia Day. All sorts of nationalistic bullshit goes on. I don’t celebrate Australia Day. I can’t bring myself to, it’s a sickening thought. If I had the mobility, I’d go to one of the remembrance ceremonies run by Indigenous Australians around the country.

    Anyway, great post. I didn’t know the details of the source of Thanksgiving, and now I do it’s certainly eye-opening.

  4. narcopuppy says:

    I love the video. I saw that movie in theaters as a kid and when that scene got to the blond chick tied to the pole I shouted “BURN HER! BURN HER!” really loudly. I got some dirty looks but you just can’t worry about that sort of thing much.

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