The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth. Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (detail)
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Then these new immigrants created a charming little Thanksgiving myth designed to purge their sins, and they made the day a national holiday and celebrated it annually. Eventually that myth became the truth that new generations believed.
Is it any wonder that the descendants of these murderous invaders, who now consider themselves the true owners of this land, are exhibiting fears that contemporary "illegal immigrants" might do the same thing to them?
The deepest understanding of the truth of what one's ancestors perpetrated is passed down through the generations. Whether the sins of the fathers are passed down "to the third and the fourth generations" in the way that the Bible indicates, or whether the guilt for these sins remains within our genetic material or is buried in the subconscious, these deep levels of the psyche remember the horrors which were perpetrated. And, in the dark recesses of our souls, we also understand that the pendulum always swings back.
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth. Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,1914
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This nebulous but nagging guilt gives rise to "unfounded" fears that modern day Mexican/other immigrants are here to kill all American citizens. These fears have no real relationship to today's immigrants--they rise from our own collective guilt for exterminating the previous citizens of this land. Recognizing the source of these fears is the first step toward change. Educating oneself is the second.
An excerpt from a blog post by Dennis W. Zotigh who is a Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian, member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of principal Kiowa war chiefs Sitting Bear and No Retreat, offers some insight. Zotigh is also cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
What really happened at the first Thanksgiving in 1621? The Pilgrims did not introduce the concept of thanksgiving; the New England tribes already had autumn harvest feasts of thanksgiving. To the original people of this continent, each day is a day of thanksgiving to the Creator.
In the fall of 1621, William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, decided to have a Plymouth harvest feast of thanksgiving and invited Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation, to join the Pilgrims. Massasoit came with approximately 90 warriors and brought food to add to the feast, including venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash and maple syrup. Massasoit and the ninety warriors stayed in Plymouth for three days...
Squanto died in 1622, but Massasoit outlived the era of relative peace in colonial New England. On May 26, 1637, near the present-day Mystic River in Connecticut, while their warriors were away, an estimated 400 to 700 Pequot women, children, and old men were massacred and burned by combined forces of the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Saybrook (Connecticut) colonies and Narragansett and Mohegan allies. Colonial authorities found justification to kill most of the Pequot men and enslave the captured women and their children. Pequot slaves were sent to Bermuda and the West Indies.
In 1975 the official number of Pequot people living in Connecticut was 21.
Similar declines in Native population took place throughout New England as an estimated three hundred thousand Indians died by violence, and even more were displaced, in New England over the next few decades.
Looking at this history raises a question: Why should Native peoples celebrate Thanksgiving? Many Natives particularly in the New England area remember this attempted genocide as a factual part of their history and are reminded each year during the modern Thanksgiving. The United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget.
We cannot change the past, but we can change the effect it has on the future. On this Thanksgiving--while there is much to be grateful for--perhaps it's time to practice a "pay-it-forward" form of thanks, and set some intentions for actions that can help soothe the wounds of the past and become what we can be thankful for in the future.
The best ways to change this come from within each individual: first, educating outselves, and then taking ethical action. The comment section of Zotigh's blog and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. are two good place to start, and Thanksgiving Day is a good day to begin.
Bringing healing to this part of the American story is win-win: it is not only the victimized who need healing, but also the perpetrators.