November 28, 2013

The #1 Thanksgiving myth

The no. 1 Thanksgiving myth may be that the Pilgrims and Indians were "besties," as the first group of postings notes:

First Thanksgiving: Forget what you learned in school

By Cindy Yurth[T]he fact is that the great East Coast tribes at that time--the Pequot, Narragansett and Wampanoag--were in a constant joust for supremacy, Hopkins said. If the Pilgrims thought they had left in their past a land of interlocking empires and scheming aristocracy, they were mistaken.

Their arrival was not met by a band of happy-go-lucky savages eager to share their wealth with the starving newcomers. The tribes were wondering how the palefaces were going to fit into the power structure, and whether they should befriend them in the hopes of gaining new allies, or dispatch them on the spot to preserve the status quo.

"Massasoit wanted to make friends with the Pilgrims so he could get their help against the Narragansetts," Hopkins explained. "It worked."

Although Squanto, a Wampanoag who spoke English, had taught the Pilgrims what to plant in the New World, the two races were not quite on friendly terms by the time of that first harvest.

"What most history books don't tell you is that the Pilgrims limited the number of Indians who could attend that first Thanksgiving," Hopkins said. "They made sure to seat a white guy on each side of each Wampanoag warrior, just in case something happened."
Wampanoag Historian on Surviving Almost 400 Years of Thanksgivings

By Gale Courey ToensingWhat do you think is the most egregious misunderstanding about Thanksgiving?

Probably that it’s perceived that we welcomed them. Yeah, they think we were just standing there waiting for them and welcoming [them] and one guy handed them the turkey and another guy handed them the carving knife and they all went to dinner—it’s just ridiculous! What really happened was there was no contact with them for six months. But we were watching them and seeing what they were doing. And it was Samoset who was from Maine and was down visiting who made the first contact—I always figured they sent the guy from out of town to do it! But then there was a feasting event the next fall that’s been interpreted as the first Thanksgiving. But it wasn’t even dubbed that till the 19th century.
6 Thanksgiving Myths, Share Them With Someone You Know

By Vincent SchillingIn 1621, when the Pilgrims were celebrating a successful harvest, they were shooting guns and cannons into the air. The Wampanoag chief and 90 warriors made their way to the settlement in full warrior mode—in response to the gunfire. As the Huffington Post’s Richard Schiffman puts it, “It remains an open question, however, whether the Wampanoag were actually invited, or if they crashed the party.”

The Pilgrims were most likely nervous—the Wampanoag outnumbered the Pilgrims two to one, but it certainly wasn’t the happy picture put forth in many history books. According to Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ramona Peters, “It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story.”

Why Falsify Thanksgiving?

Why do we celebrate a happy-go-lucky feast between Pilgrim and Indian "besties"? Like Indian mascots and other stereotypical depictions, it obscures America's history of crimes against Indians.

Thanksgiving is for sociopaths

I don't have anything against turkey. But I can't abide a holiday that denies its genocidal historical context

By Robert Jensen
“I don’t hate Thanksgiving—I just think it’s appropriate to critique a celebration that obscures the reality of the European conquest of the Americas.”

That description is accurate, at one level—my rejection of Thanksgiving is more intellectual than emotional, a political decision to reject that distortion of history. Whatever the actual details of the 1621 celebration involving Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians (and there is ongoing debate about various factual claims), Thanksgiving is one way the dominant culture minimizes or denies the larger historical context of Europeans’ genocidal campaign against indigenous people to acquire the land base of the United States. Without that genocide, there is no United States. For the victors’ descendants to take a day off to give thanks without acknowledging that seems, well, just a bit sociopathic.
Native Appropriation Month

By Ruth HopkinsIn November, schools throughout America encourage children to dress up as pilgrims and Indians to tell the myth of the first Thanksgiving. Educators, you have no excuse. Real history is at your fingertips. There’s no need to regurgitate the white washed story of Thanksgiving that you were spoon fed as a child. Stop pushing the Charlie Brown version where Pilgrims and Indians shook hands and feasted, and tell them the truth. Tell your students about the original inhabitants of this country, colonization, and the genocide that followed. If children can learn about slavery, World War II and the holocaust, they can learn about how Europeans invaded this land and what happened to its Indigenous people. Dressing school children in stereotypical Indian costumes doesn’t teach them about Thanksgiving. It teaches them about privilege and control.Thanksgiving Hypocrisy

By Stephen LendmanThe Thanksgiving holiday is also a way to promote what Edward Herman calls our “indispensable state,” our innate goodness and the illusion of American exceptionalism, moral and cultural superiority, and the belief that the Almighty made us special the way ideological Zionists feel Jews are “the chosen people.” It’s a short step from these views to judging others inferior, especially those ranked low in the racial, religious, ethnic or cultural pecking order–blacks, Latinos, and today’s number one target of choice for a nation at war and an enemy needed to justify it–Muslims hatefully portrayed as “radicals, extremists, gunmen, insurgents,” and “Islamofascists.”Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?

By Dennis ZotighThe Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people, including myself, by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. There are so many things wrong with the happy celebration that takes place in elementary schools and its association to American Indian culture; compromised integrity, stereotyping, and cultural misappropriation are three examples.

When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. These cultural misunderstandings and stereotypical images perpetuate historical inaccuracy.
MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Tackles the Broad American Mythology

Comment:  For more on Thanksgiving myths, see Thanksgiving Is for Celebration Only? and Stereotypical Thanksgiving Paintings.

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