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Honoring Native Americans on Thanksgiving

Honor the Water Protectors of Standing Rock on Thanksgiving. https://bethechange2012.wordpress.com/

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Susan Bates: Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen – once. Jennifer Browdy: Thanksgiving in the U.S. is about gathering together with friends and family and giving thanks for being able to stuff oneself with a huge meal.

It’s one of the most important holidays … second only to “Christmas.”

Its founding myth is the fateful meal shared by the indigenous peoples of Massachusetts with the starving English Pilgrims. The Pilgrims “gave thanks” at that meal for the generosity of their hosts, and thus was born the tradition of a November Thanksgiving feast.

To my way of thinking, Thanksgiving should actually be a day of atonement marked by fasting, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, Lent or Ramadan.

We Euramericans should be reflecting and repenting on this day for the way our ancestors turned on their Native hosts, once the time of starvation was past.

Susan Bates: The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.

But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their “victory”, the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.

Jennifer Browdy: We repaid their kind welcome with a shameful record of stealing, swindling, enslavement, displacement and deliberate infection.

We waged vicious war that slaughtered children and old people along with warriors both male and female.

We occupied their lands without a second thought, and proceeded to cut the primeval forests to make room for our livestock, roads and cities.

This pattern started with the Puritan Pilgrims in Massachusetts, and spread inexorably West, all the way to California and Texas, where indeed the brutal work had already been begun by the Spanish.

I don’t really expect Americans to give up the tradition of the jolly Thanksgiving feast.

But we do need to be mindful of the real historical background behind the custom of gathering to celebrate with family and friends.

American Thanksgiving is a holiday that honors the spirit of sharing the bounty. When we dig into that heaped plate today, we should be giving thanks to the rich Earth that has nourished human beings for millennia, and for the Native peoples of this continent, who learned how to live in harmony with the flora and fauna of this place, cultivating the first corn, beans and squash, and craftily culling the abundant indigenous turkeys.

And we should pause in our feast to reflect on the ignoble history that unfolded after that original Thanksgiving in Plymouth MA, where America repaid her hosts not with honor, but with persecution, scorn and hate.

In the act of repentance springs redemption. The indigenous people of this continent are not gone–they are alive and well and living among us. Let us raise a glass to them today and give them the honor and thanks they deserve.

Jennifer Browdy:
Honoring Native Americans on Thanksgiving
Susan Bates:
https://www.manataka.org/page269.html

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