Every November, this nation celebrates Thanksgiving, a time where we spend with our families for dinner, and supposedly celebrate everything we are thankful for. Its origins have traced back during the early days of American history where European Pilgrims have settled in the new world. According to many history textbooks in almost all schools across the nation, the Pilgrims and Native peoples (‘Indians’ in most of these textbooks) were friendly towards each other. There was no hatred, especially from the Settlers, against the Native people. In fact Native Americans helped the Pilgrims learn to fish, farm and hunt, and survive the harsh conditions of winter. After harvesting their first crop, they and their “Indian friends” have celebrated what would be forever be referred to as the first Thanksgiving, and America continues to live that tradition today.
However, very few people in modern times have asked the question, “Did it really happen?” Think about it for a second. If it did, then how come Native Americans were referred to as savages for the longest? How come they were almost decimated by the very people they supposedly helped? Was it something the Native Americans did that warranted their deaths? (I assume some ignorant, bigoted folk would answer that question with an unyielding ‘yes’.) Or rather, did the settlers have a problem with them to begin with, and this tale of Thanksgiving is like the rest of American history told in elementary, middle; high school and college textbooks all across this country, all rewritten in favor the victors who still possess the throne?
I’ve learned that history is always told in favor of the winner. In this case American history is made in the White American male’s image where most of the time, he is the achiever, the leader, the innovator and the savior. The white man in American history has done nothing wrong, or if he did, he was the outlier. The real savages, according to them, were the Native Americans, the Africans, the Mexicans, the Japanese and anyone else who dared to stand in the way of the white man’s
Broken Mystic’s blog post “The Truth About Thanksgiving: Brainwashing of the American History Textbook” describes one of Pilgrim’s not-so-glorious past truths after they arrived in “the new world”:
“This patronizing version of history excludes many embarrassing facts of European history. As stated by James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” many college students are unaware of the horrific plague that devastated and significantly reduced the population of Natives after Columbus’ arrival in the “new world.” Most diseases came from animals that were domesticated by Europeans. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, which was later “spread through gifts of blankets by infected Europeans.”
But was it true that the “Indians” helped the European settlers fish and farm? No. In fact many Europeans referred to Native Americans as savages too primitive and too wild to coexist with. The only good thing about them, according to the Europeans, was that their population was shrinking due to European diseases and racially charged massacres. Broken Mystic continues:
“…There was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.
Captain John Mason and his colonist army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: ‘We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.’ The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain.”
It gets worse. Some historians believed that the Pequot Massacre led to many “Thanksgiving activities”:
“The day after the massacre, the…Governor (of the) Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” It was signed into law that, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”
But what about Squanto? As you may remembered from your history classes, he was the main figure who helped the Pilgrims learn to farm while he was taught how to speak English. He was a pivotal character behind the first Thanksgiving. However, true history has given a much darker truth behind the treatment of this man. Broken Myth explains:
“History textbooks neglect to mention that the Europeans did not perceive Squanto as an equal, but rather as “an instrument of their God” to help the “chosen people.” It is also omitted that, as a boy, Squanto was stolen by a British captain in 1605 and taken to England. He worked for a Plymouth Merchant who eventually helped him arrange passage back to Massachusetts, but less than a year later, he was seized by a British slave raider. Along with two dozen fellow Natives, Squanto was sold into slavery in Spain. He would manage to escape slavery, journey back to England, and then talk a ship captain into taking him along on his next trip to Cape Cod in 1619.
As Squanto walked back into his home village, he was horrified to find that he was the only surviving member of his village. The rest were either killed in battle or died of illness and disease. Excluding Squanto’s enslavement is to paint an incredibly distorted version of history that suggests Natives like Squanto learned English for no other reason but to help the colonists. It is to glorify the Europeans and erase the struggles and experiences of the Native people.”
Is this post meant to dampen the spirits of those who look forward to a holiday of togetherness and thankfulness? No. However, this shows that we can not afford to continue living in fantasies instead of facing the cold, hard truth. Sure, some of us hope to eat as much as we can while watching Thanksgiving Parades, football games, Thanksgiving specials and marathons and commercials about the latest shopping discounts. But we can not run away from the truth.
If we are to give thanks every November, why not give thanks that there are people who are not afraid of the truth and like the tagline to the cult-classic “The X-Files” the truth is out there. For those of you who are believers, why not say a prayer for the Native Americans people? Why not learn more about who they are without patronizing their culture? Why not ask – no, demand that the truth be told? You can celebrate Thanksgiving if you wish, but not at the expense of the Native American people.
The Thanksgiving we are told repeatedly through textbooks and television specials are to cover up the heinous treatment of Native Americans by White Europeans. It is to – once again – present a heartwarming tale to bury the terrible truth that White Europeans had a problem with Nonwhite Europeans, a fact that would not end with the slaughter of many Native Americans. We would see it again in then-future white supremacist moments, and they too will be “whitewashed” for the sake of making the victor feel proud to be a White American. That is nothing anyone should be thankful for.