Thanksgiving, which has evolved over the past century into our great national feast day of holy obligation and gluttony, gets its current inspiration from the myth of the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims going all post-racial multicultural and stuffing their faces before living happily ever after in peace, love and understanding. (It was just a temporary treaty.) We've been taught to view the aboriginals as uncultured primitives, and the Pilgrims as upright austere folk in funny hats fleeing from religious persecution to start life anew in the Land of the Free. We're falsely taught that this land was very sparsely populated, that there were plenty of wide open spaces just there for the sharing.
We've been taught wrong. Before the arrival of the Pilgrims, there were numerous Indian nations with millions of people prospering up and down the East Coast, later to be beatified as the Thirteen Original Colonies. Aboriginal people were never considered by either the colonial settlers or the later "Founders" to have been endowed with certain inalienable rights. They were considered aliens in their own land, which they had populated for thousands or even tens of thousands of years before Miles Standish and Cotton Mather arrived on the scene to scatter their imperialistic brimstone.
As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in An Indigenous People's History of the United States,
In the founding myth of the United States, the colonists acquired a vast expanse of land from a scattering of benighted peoples who were hardly using it -- an unforgivable offense to the Puritan work ethic. The historical record is clear, however, that European colonists shoved aside a large network of small and large nations whose governments, commerce, arts and sciences agricultures, technologies, theologies, philosophies and institutions were intricately developed, nations that maintained sophisticated relations with one another and with the environments that supported them.Racism came to America long before the importation of African people for purposes of enslavement. According to Dunbar-Ortiz, Britons were enticed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the usual ploy: a marketing campaign. In 1630, the Mayflower conquerors developed their own seal. "The central image depicts a near-naked native holding a harmless, flimsy-looking bow and arrow and inscribed with the plea, 'Come over and help us.'"
The doctrine of "liberal interventionism" dies hard, as evidenced by the USA's recent adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and the presence of at least a thousand military bases encircling the globe.
Thanksgiving might be more properly marked as Native Genocide Remembrance Day -- or, if you want to be euphemistic, National Colonial Settlement Day. The tradition of using religion as an excuse to invade, occupy, rape, plunder, terrorize and exterminate is nothing new. Now most publicized by ISIS, it was also the casus belli of the European settlers who landed on Plymouth Rock in the 17th century.
When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, there were 40,000 Wampanoags living in 67 separate villages in the territory. Today, only 4,000 of their direct descendants remain in New England.
There were plenty of other victims of Puritan religious fundamentalism, too. From Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States:
The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."
The Puritans lived in uneasy truce with the Pequot Indians, who occupied what is now southern Connecticut and Rhode Island. But they wanted them out of the way; they wanted their land. And they seemed to want also to establish their rule firmly over Connecticut settlers in that area. The murder of a white trader, Indian-kidnaper, and troublemaker became an excuse to make war on the Pequots in 1636.
A punitive expedition left Boston to attack the Narraganset Indians on Block Island, who were lumped with the Pequots. As Governor Winthrop wrote: "They had commission to put to death the men of Block Island, but to spare the women and children, and to bring them away, and to take possession of the island; and from thence to go to the Pequods to demand the murderers of Captain Stone and other English, and one thousand fathom of wampum for damages, etc. and some of their children as hostages, which if they should refuse, they were to obtain it by force."
The English landed and killed some Indians, but the rest hid in the thick forests of the island and the English went from one deserted village to the next, destroying crops. Then they sailed back to the mainland and raided Pequot villages along the coast, destroying crops again. One of the officers of that expedition, in his account, gives some insight into the Pequots they encountered: "The Indians spying of us came running in multitudes along the water side, crying, What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer, what do you come for? They not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully... -"Unfortunately, the current revisionist-in-chief is not only not getting with the Zinn reality program, he's doubling down on the imperialistic propaganda. Barack Obama, from today's Thanksgiving address:
Hi, everybody. In 1620, a small band of pilgrims came to this continent, refugees who had fled persecution and violence in their native land. Nearly 400 years later, we remember their part in the American story -- and we honor the men and women who helped them in their time of need.He couldn't even mention the Pequots and Wampanoags by name, could he? It might make his audience ask whatever happened to them all, anyway? There never was, and never will be, a "Je Suis Pequot" rallying cry in the United States.
Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims -- men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families. What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty's light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God's children are worthy of our compassion and care. That's part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth.Of course, the indigenous people never made the Pilgrims go through background checks, get fingerprinted, and then wait at least two years before entering the premises, as Obama's America is forcing the Muslim refugees to do. They never locked up mother and child pilgrims fleeing Central American violence in Homeland Security prisons until one humane, outraged judge finally ordered their release. The aboriginal communities did not then put ankle bracelets on the Pilgrims in order to track their every move. They never put the Pilgrims back on the boat and told them to get lost. I think that Obama is getting the plunderers and the plundered all mixed up in his jingoistic pipe dream.
Obama also didn't mention that Pilgrims sold many of the native people into slavery on sugar plantations, and that descendants of the Wampanoag nation have recently been discovered living on Caribbean islands. Globalized capitalism is nothing new.
Still, there's nothing wrong with traveling to holiday Fantasy Land, as long as the fiction satirizes and pummels the plunderers. The following retelling of the Thanksgiving legend is getting to be an annual Sardonicky tradition. It turns the Calvinist "origin myth" of the first Thanksgiving and the unholy birth of American Exceptionalism right on its head:
Wednesday (playing "Pocahontas")): Wait!
Wednesday: We cannot break bread with you.
Amanda: Huh? Becky, what's going on?
Becky: [whispered] Wednesday!
Wednesday: You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, "Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller."
Amanda: Gary, she's changing the words.
Wednesday: And for all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!