Every child who has grown up in America is familiar with the images of the pilgrims and the “Indians” sitting down for the first Thanksgiving.
The pilgrims are donned in buckles and good tidings while the Native Americans are gracious and painted savage, all sitting down during the pilgrim’s first harvest to create peace and feast.
That story is sweet to sing about and the plays put on in early childhood are cute for parents to see. However, it’s not the truth. It’s a tragedy with rose colored glasses.
Recently, Seattle chose to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day in placement of Columbus Day. Due to shared history, the discussion has bled onto Thanksgiving Day and what it all means to celebrate or not celebrate.
Christopher Columbus began the taking of land and wealth from indigenous peoples where many followed. This created a racial underclass. Columbus died in bed of syphilis that he only had contracted from raping Native American women. I guess all of that might be harder to rhyme with than, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Columbus is not alone in these crimes. For hundreds of years native people were manipulated, stolen from and moved from their land for European use.
For food and crop skills, we gave them disease. Through blankets and animals, the Europeans infected he Native Americans with smallpox. This was not a tragedy then. To most of the Pilgrims and Europeans, the Natives were heathens, savages, treacherous and satanic.
It’s arguable that Thanksgiving has transformed where it’s not about how it began. In our modern day society, celebrating involves eating turkey, watching football, the parade and getting ready for Black Friday.
The erasure of a desecration of a culture and livelihood is something that can’t be covered with a public relations spin. Nothing exists without context. America was never discovered. How can you discover a land that millions have already made home?
That’s not to say if you celebrate Thanksgiving Day, you are somehow on the moral ground of the settlers. That is far from the truth. Holidays mean different things to different people.
When my family celebrates Thanksgiving, it’s an excuse to spend time together and have a meal that doesn’t come equipped with microwavable instructions. A lot of people commemorate the day harmlessly with no thought to the history. Yet, that’s part of the problem.
Shoving the truth that’s glossed over under the rug and smiling with your stuffing is understandable. No one wants to get around a table and discuss the disenfranchisement of millions of people, but forgetting the tragedy doesn’t do any service to the lost people.
The truth can be ugly, but that doesn’t keep it from being the truth.
Today there are more than half a million Native Americans in the United Sates. A large population live on reservations and the conditions in these reservations are comparable to the conditions of a Third World country.
Many earn only social security, disability or veteran’s income. The lack of job opportunities mean many are unemployed. High amounts of Native Americans are homeless or in overcrowded conditions, some not even connected to a sewer. Health is poor in these communities. There are large percentages of alcoholism, heart disease, diabetes and tuberculosis. Native Americans are a race with the biggest percentages of suicide.
As far as I’m concerned, this doesn’t mean Thanksgiving shouldn’t be celebrated. Maybe it should but not in the vein that it is.
Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to remember the millions our country treats wrong. Instead of romanticizing the image of the friendly Pilgrim and Native American, we should mourn the lives taken and respect the gone with no sympathy given to the killers.
Thanksgiving Day should be about looking our past dead in the face and striving toward a better future.