Many indigenous people and others commemorate the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning since the 1970s remembering what we all know as Thanksgiving. As much as I am aware of the atrocities inflicted upon Native Americans among whose number I count myself as part Cherokee and perhaps Iroquois Thanksgiving is ingrained in me.
Like many of us I grew up having been taught the Thanksgiving version of the founding of these here United States. It might have been my high school years or further along when I took in the entire story.
I wonder how many think about the 1st thanksgiving or what transpired afterward during this holiday; for more than a few it is just a time of family, friends, fellowship, food oh yes and often football and giving thanks.
Is Thanksgiving a white supremacist holiday? Should Native Americans replace it with a Day of Atonement, should non-Indigenous folk join in and opt out of Thanksgiving from a sense of solidarity (especially folks of color) or guilt or from accepting responsibility for perpetuating a myth?
Perhaps it is seldom black or white in this crucible of American diversity and it is that nuance, motive and point of view hang on authorship. I wonder if there is an apolitical voice to be brought to bear on this “celebration verses atonement” conversation, a voice not speaking as an enraged guilt ridden white man or indignant wronged dark skinned person but someone who may belong to either or neither of these groups that feels the wrongness of it and thus grieves.
Who is mindful, grieves and still looks forward to Thanksgiving? Is celebrating this telling of Thanksgiving and skipping “the morning after,” at the heart of U.S. myth building?
Isn’t myth-building what countries do? Building myth used to be the unchallenged prerogative of the group in charge, the part of the spoils of the victor we call history. However, this has long since not been the case but what is a healthy way to handle the dichotomy between voices of view?
Every stone of truth turned over uncovers more dissent spread like wildfire these days through the egalitarian Internet and by plain ole travailing these uncovered issues into discourse, or maybe it is spreading like a controlled burn in preparation of a spring planting.
Lincoln didn’t really want to free the slaves, nor did Washington nor Jefferson, J. Edgar Hoover wore dresses , Columbus was a murderer and Jesus was really from Newark and such is history and myth.
My issue is revisionist history I don’t like it. Aside from the unethical intentional logistics, I believe exist in the willful miss telling of the tale how many heroes have been covered up in shrouds of non-recognition and their progeny in stereotypic shame their graves the very footstools of other’s glory who deserves to go down in infamy instead?
Buried are Africans, African Americans, Gays, Jews and others whose tombstones read obviously “just chattel”, “stupid and lazy”, “abominable” “untouchable”, having added nothing to the history of this country. I’m inclined to say forgive and forget, let’s move forward, can’t we all get along, except it seems that certain mythic stories must be silenced. However, they must not only be silenced but also breathed into anew somehow. Maybe the stories need many new storytellers and obviously that is happening but not yet in the main stream, only upstream where the salmon of dissent swim to continue their story.
In Robert Jensen’s No Thanks For Thanksgiving Mr. Jensen asserts, speaking of Thanksgiving,
Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it’s also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.
Is there a celebration of thanksgiving in this somewhere, silly question? One thing to celebrate might be the telling of the entire story by different voices. Sounds weird, stupid, ignorant and … but what about celebrating a day of atonement. For many of us Thanksgiving is far removed from pilgrims the fairytale and indigenous folks massacre, it is about family, abundance, sharing, and really, really about thanksgiving. For the record Thanksgiving is far from monolithic in ceremony. Most of the folks I hang out with are vegetarian, many vegan and don’t do the entire gorge thing. However, I would ask why judge anyone who does once a year? That is their journey.
So I’m looking for ideas that merge with the Day of Atonement that takes place every fourth Thursday in November and acknowledges that we also have lots for which to be thankful, even if perhaps Plymouth Rock is part of a darker more complete story. I’d start my day out in atonement and end in thanksgiving or vice versa, I’d do a pot luck with Native American brothers and sisters, atone and more but as much as I get the big bad myth making machine idea I need to posit that Thanksgiving to me is a day to be thankful, to slow my role, and be one with family and friends and strangers, to live in the moment and appreciate being alive. To me that essential part of the myth cannot be plucked from the American zeitgeist and not be replaced without causing further psychic damage to our country. Who know that perhaps by atoning and acknowledging so many wrongful deaths I would be more thankful? Maybe it should be traditional Thanksgiving and then “they” have “their” day, Native American Heritage Day which is the Friday after Thanksgiving. Or maybe I want to have my drumstick and eat it too.
See on www.alternet.org