Most of us enjoyed our Thanksgiving break last week with our family and friends. Whatever we did and ate, this celebration is a very important one in our hearts. And there are a lot of misconceptions about it. I think a reminder on the real meaning of Thanksgiving is needed. As well as a shout out to the First Nations.
Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Native Americans. They just happened to be there when the Pilgrims made their first one on North American soil. First of all, Thanksgiving is a celebration to thank God for the reason you think God needs thanking for at that moment. It has existed since God (or Gods) have been imagined by human beings. Second of all, the Pilgrim Thanksgiving is not even the first Thanksgiving in America. There is strong evidence that the first one was done by French people (woot woot) in Florida. And I’m sure the First Nations have thanked their deities before the Europeans came to American soil.
The first Thanksgiving celebrated by the White House had nothing to do with this supposedly “First Thanksgiving” neither. George Washington wanted to celebrate the Creation of the US Constitution by Thanking God. Which is weird considering that the Federal Government is not supposed to support any religion. What a start for a secular country. Thank God (oops) Jefferson was there to correct this – by not proclaiming any Thanksgiving during his presidency. But most of the next presidents brought Thanksgiving back until Lincoln finally set the celebration as a Federal Holiday in 1863. And his reason was to Thank the Almighty for saving the Union. Not the Native Americans.
So even though popular belief makes it seem that Thanksgiving means giving thanks to the American Indians, it is actually to Thank God for safe travels, harvest, or victory in war. When the settlers took the land from the Natives, there were no thanks given. When they killed them, removed them, “civilized” them, there were no thanks given. This is why we need to untie this Celebration with the “First Thanksgiving”. Because it looks like Thanksgiving is all about the Pilgrims arrival. And this blocks Native Americans from celebrating this in peace.
People from the Wampanoag tribe were at the “First Thanksgiving”. Why do we keep simplifying by saying that they were “Native Americans”? It is not a surprise then that most Americans are not capable of citing a few tribes. I can relate when Americans say “I’m going to Europe”. Maybe for Americans, Europe is one big country, but European countries are very different from one another. In the same way, all the tribes consider themselves as having their own identity. They have different mores, different languages and their own governments. There are 567 recognized tribes and there are 326 reservations throughout the US. Most of these reservations are on the West side of the map because their Eastern lands were stolen by White settlers (why couldn’t they settle out West?). The same way Israel is doing this in Palestine, the White Christians would sign treaties to divide the lands between them and the Natives to keep them from rebelling. But then they would still keep on stealing their land and inevitably having to displace the original population. Where to put all these tribes? They were displaced in a new territory (actually Oklahoma). The displaced tribes joined forces to create their own State (Sequoyah) but it was stopped by Teddy Roosevelt. One of the excuses why they were removed was the fact that they did not blend in. But the Amish, who were European and Christians, did not blend in neither, and no one stole their land. They even stole some Native American lands too.
The only presence of European settlers killed between 80 and 95% of the people living in the New World (New to whom btw?) before hand. Diseases such as influenza, measles and smallpox, which were unknown there destroyed their Nations. And then, because toleration was only good for other white christians at this time, we took the Amerindian children into boarding schools. Taught them how to stop being savages and start believing in real deities. European culture was forced up on them. From the start there was no intention from the conqueror to share cultures. It was “take my better culture or die”. I mean, they were forbidden to speak their languages between them, forbidden to practice their “savage” religions (remember the First Amendment?), were given European names. No one cared and still today no one really cares.
I wanted to recognize now that Thanksgiving has passed, that all the original tribes’ cultures are fully part of this continent and of American History. Just like the histories of the ancestors of African Americans are never taught in school, Native American history is never considered as important as the European one. It’s like America did not exist before White Settlers arrived on it. I would understand if the History of Mars only starts when we set foot on it, because it is empty. But we know that people lived on our land for thousands of years, yet we killed 90% of them, voluntarily or not, and we de-humanized and treated them like they were an inferior species. It is time we acknowledge that we still have a lot to learn from the different tribes that populate this land. We need people to understand that Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Native Americans in the first place. We also need a cultural shift and start teaching history from all of the American identities sides. We all know that America is diverse, let’s learn about it.