It’s Not Really About the Pilgrims and the “Indians” Anymore…

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If you know me, then you know how much I love FOOD.

Especially potatoes… mashed potatoes, plain potatoes, baked potatoes, cheesy potatoes, scalloped potatoes, fried potatoes (hehe), and so on.

Needless to say, I’m also a big fan of Thanksgiving… but I’m not a big fan of the origin of this holiday…

We usually hear the side of controversial stories that glorifies or even justifies the “winner.” It is what it is. That’s how history is recorded most of the time. Yeah, the (white) Pilgrims survived and was one of the first English settlements here in America that was successful. In fact, it was successful because the Native Americans (we can stop incorrectly calling them “Indians” now, ya’ll – it’s 2016) did indeed help the Pilgrims out. Big time. 

And then we killed them.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that we have a traditional holiday that is meant to reflect on the feast that the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared in 1616? They had a feast of thanksgiving, a feast to basically honor a Native American named Squanto and the Wampanoag Nation for helping them survive their first year here. That’s an awesome reason for a feast. I’ll give them that.

Do you remember learning about Squanto in elementary school? He was a Patuxet “Indian”and he was also a former slave (in England). That is why he knew English. He literally taught the Pilgrims how to survive and he negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation.

He put his past grievances aside and helped the strangers that invaded his homeland to survive. That’s remarkable.

As time went on, more English settlers came to the new land. And, in the process, they captured and killed Native Americans that they came across. One particular group of Natives, the Pequot Nation, was not a part of Squanto’s peace agreement, and they fought back. Who can blame them? There were about 4,000 Pequots in total (men, women, and children) at this time (8,000 before the Smallpox epidemic, but that’s another topic all together). One reason for The Peqout War was actually an issue about trade (an economic issue – go figure). Before the English arrived, the Pequots had trade dominance of their area. Anywhoooo, long story short: English came in, they ticked off Pequots, Pequots fought back on the newbies, and the Natives lost.

But there is more to it. In 1637, 21 years after the original Thanksgiving (that we celebrate) with the Natives, over 700 Pequots went to their annual Green Corn Festival (their Thanksgiving festival). English and Dutch mercenaries surrounded the Natives and ordered them to come outside of the buildings that they were sleeping in. Those that were brave enough to venture outside were shot or beaten to death. For those that were too afraid to go outside (women and children included), they were burned to death. It’s rather heartwarming, isn’t it? The then-governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony thought so, too. The day after the massacre, he declared “A Day of Thanksgiving” because of the successful ambush.

There’s more (much more…) to our nation’s history that involves the Pequots and other Natives, but that deters from my point of this post. So, I will stop there.

For some of us, it’s easy to refuse to admit that our ancestors may have been a villain in somebody’s story. You’re right when you say that that wasn’t us. Because it wasn’t. Knowing what we know now, it’s understandable to claim that we would never have done that. But that doesn’t change the fact that it did. “Those weren’t my ancestors, though,” some of you may argue. And that’s a fair response, as well. Maybe they weren’t your ancestors. Okay.

(Note: I am fully aware that Natives were turning on each other, too.)

But, here’s the thing: We still only teach the PG story. Maybe this topic isn’t appropriate for elementary students, sure, but we really ought to teach students the full story once they’re older. And that isn’t always the case.

As for me, I honestly do not think about the Pilgrims and “Indians” when I’m seated with a massive amount of food in front of me. That isn’t what Thanksgiving is to me. In my household, Thanksgiving is a time every year when we all get together and try to truly cherish one another and what we have in life. That is what Thanksgiving is. Not two groups coming together in hopes of survival. (And, honestly, it’s hard to date back which culture that did the Thanksgiving feasts first. Heck, every culture has done them, under one name or another. People love food… and they’ll find a reason to eat!)

This Thanksgiving, if the topic of Pilgrims and Natives become a topic of discussion, I hope that you consider discussing the fact that Natives are still being… well… bullied on their own homeland.

Educate yourselves on the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. Even if it doesn’t personally affect you right now, try to put yourself in their shoes. Our country knows very well how to take and take and take; it’s time to stop for good. This land is sacred to the Natives, much like how Arlington Cemetery is sacred to our American culture, and it needs to be protected.

Speak up about injustice, even if it’s not your injustice.

I’m not saying to boycott Thanksgiving. It’s a national holiday, a yummy national holiday, and a lot of good does come out of it (well, before Black Friday sales start, anyway…).

I love this holiday, but I no longer associate it with history. What we did to the Natives isn’t something I’d prefer to feast to. The Natives don’t get enough recognition for what they truly deserve.

And, frankly, our society shouldn’t turn away from the injustice happening at Standing Rock or make jokes about casinos and then decide one day out of the year that we all suddenly want to dress up as an “Indian” and put on an act. (Oh, and don’t even get me started on Cinco de Mayo and how everybody suddenly loves Mexicans, salsa, and sombreros one day out of the year, as well….). We, as an American culture, sure are ignorant, aren’t we? Especially since we claim to be a “melting pot.”

For some people, this is their lives that we are talking about. We can’t re-write history to fit how we wish things would have been, but we can properly educate ourselves in what happened and attempt to understand why modern Natives are pretty fed up.

Featured Photo Made Courtesy by Colin Stokes, The New Yorker.

 

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