Sunday, November 15, 2009

Uncovering the Thanksgiving Myth

by William P. Muhammad

As we approach that venerated time of year when Americans sit down to enjoy their ham and turkey, some time should be taken to reflect upon the impact European settlers had upon the original inhabitants of the “New World.” As Native Americans today barely number two million people inside the Unites States, questions must be asked about the effect of genocide from the first days of the Caucasian’s presence in North America.

Adopted as an American myth by the 1800s, Thanksgiving has been introduced to the public and to the world as an example of goodwill between the “Indians” and White Europeans. Missing from the official narrative, however, is the voice and testimony of the many Native Americans whose suffering has been downplayed and ignored since the arrival of the first English colonists.

Thanksgiving, traditionally rooted in autumn harvest festivals, but identified as having its American origin on Plymouth Plantation in 1621, could not have taken place without the life-saving intervention of Native Americans there. Teaching the English colonists how to survive the harsh winters of the American Northeast, the actual facts regarding the true relationship between the European and the “Indian” has been lost to both time and historical interpretation.

For instance, it is a known fact that European adventurism into the Western Hemisphere came at a high price for the “New World’s” indigenous populations. From Spanish and Portuguese conquests of the Caribbean, South America and portions of North America to the Anglo-Dutch exploits of the Atlantic seaboard, in what is now called the United States, long established civilizations were wiped out within the span of a few hundred years.

For example, on December 4, 1619, after claiming nearly 8,000 acres of Indian land about 20 miles north of Jamestown, Virginia, Captain John Woodleaf led a service of Thanksgiving in accordance with the Charter of the Berkeley Hundred which stated in part: "We ordaine (sic) that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon (sic) in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept (sic) holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."

Perhaps viewed in the context of a divine right, the 38 persons staking claim to the land did so without consideration for those who already owned the land, laying the foundation to greater conflicts that would follow. While the European historical record in 1622 cites massacres led against the English by Indian tribes, these attacks were obviously fomented in retaliation to European encroachment upon yet more Indian land, where wanton attacks upon Indian villages led to homes being burned and crops being destroyed by Englishmen.

Setting the backdrop for yet more conflict, the interactions between the Indians and the English was actually that of Europeans coveting, and by force taking, the assets of North America’s original people. A paradigm established through the slaughter and destruction of America’s indigenous populations, the circumstances under which colonial expansion evolved, eventually becoming a doctrine of manifest destiny, revealed the violent nature of what would become American self-interests.

Today, the indigenous nations within the United States suffer from the highest infant mortality rates, the highest suicide rates, high alcohol and drug abuse rates and a continued erosion of tribal sovereignty that was originally guaranteed by treaties with the United States government. In addition to this, after family separations, generations of forced assimilation and a life relegated to reservations, the spirit of North America’s original people has been subjected to trauma and abuse through acts commission and omission.

By taking Indian land, forcefully removing its people and miseducating the American public to the country’s true history, the uphill battle of America’s native people for freedom, justice and equality remains an arduous one. As the Native American fights for his rights and stands for his beliefs, the European American should contemplate the impact of one of America’s original sins.

This year, as the country observes Thanksgiving, time should be taken to reflect upon the heavy price the Original people have paid in the formation of this nation. If the holiday is to live up to its name, for the giving of thanks, then it is only proper to recognize that American people stand upon a legacy soaked in the blood, sweat and tears of those who were not originally counted as “true Americans.”

Whether Black, Brown or Red, the descendants of the Original people must be respected and remembered for the suffering they endured in the establishment of the United States of America. If no one else will reflect upon these facts during the Thanksgiving season, we should at least remember this for ourselves and never forget.

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