For many Americans, Thanksgiving is a time of family get-togethers around a traditional turkey dinner, with vague recollections of Pilgrims sharing a meal with Native Americans in eastern Massachusetts nearly four centuries ago. But for the remnants of those indigenous tribes, it is a time for mourning, Gary G. Kohls writes.
By Gary G. Kohls
We Thanksgiving turkey-celebrating, morbidly obese, football-loving, shop-until-you-drop, pink-skinned American couch potatoes (“pink”, and therefore, in one way of thinking, we are not white but are actually people of color) are all beneficiaries of our guilty ancestors who were the actual perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
We are witnessing the never-ending, 500-year-long history of of ethnic cleansing, colonizing and enslavement of the aboriginal tribes that inhabited North, Central and South America before Columbus’s sex-starved sailors stumbled upon the sandy shores and immediately started raping the land and the most nubile female inhabitants.
And, what should be even more sobering, Columbus’s acts of genocide against the aboriginal peoples pre-dated, by a couple of hundred years, very similar crimes against humanity in the murderous slave trade that victimized millions of black Africans, many of whom died, in chains, before they even arrived on the shores of this “promised land.”
In many cases the gold-hungry marauders, including the psychopathic killer-conquistadors who soon followed, were initially welcomed, tolerated and even nurtured – rather than being killed off.
Trusting the pinks to return their hospitality in the spirit of the Golden Rule, turned out to have been a huge mistake, for within decades the slaughter began, performed in the name of Christ – with the blessings of the accompanying priests whose mission was to convert the heathen under threat of death – into Christianity. Hence viewing Thanksgiving Day as really the Day of Mourning.
Most of our pink ancestors were greatly enriched by the U.S. Army’s massacres, the occupation and theft of the land of the aboriginal tribes, the exploitation of their resources, the colonization, the enslavement and the destruction of their way of life.
We pinks have been cunningly conditioned to believe way too many myths about our history. Thanks to our censored-out history books and the myths learned in Sunday School over the past few centuries, we have been led to believe the story about the “nice” Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and gratefully put on a feast for their new friendly neighbors (who were soon to be driven off the land and annihilated by the Puritans and others who soon followed).
The disinformation process about the first Thanksgiving (and the holidays that happen every fourth Thursday of November), has been designed to absolve our European ancestor-conquerors of guilt for the cruel bloodbaths that were perpetrated by the U.S. military upon many militarily weaker groups and nations throughout history.
Popular culture has essentially re-named Thanksgiving Day (the once sacred holiday) “Turkey Day,” with no objections from anybody that I know. Similarly, there has been no significant objections [except for Veterans for Peace] to re-naming – and re-purposing the traditional Armistice Day [Nov 11], which originally marked the day of the cease-fire that ended WWI, “the war to end all wars”, changing it to Veteran’s Day, which now celebrates warriors and their wars.
Such historical revisionism is totally congruent with America’s counter-Christian consumer culture. Turkey Day is followed immediately by the equally anti-Christic “shop ‘til you drop Black Friday.” Enough said.
Just like the famous Oriental monkeys sculpted with their hands over eyes, ears and mouth (which symbolized, in the original Chinese, the cowardly stance of “seeing no truth, hearing no truth and therefore speaking no truth”), the reality of the First Thanksgiving has been almost totally censored out of the history books by the book writers who taught the historically illiterate (or simply unaware?).
And so the myths trudge on, with no objections, with only transitory alerts from whistle-blowers and from others who don’t have anything more to lose, such as Native Americans like Frank B. James, aka Wamsutta.
James was a member of the now nearly extinct Wampanoag Indian tribe, the tribe that first encountered the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Here are excerpts from James’s un-uttered Sept. 10, 1970, speech, which was supposed to be delivered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but instead was suppressed. (The entire speech can be read at: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article21333.htm) First some background:
The Massachusetts Department of Commerce had asked the Wampanoag Indians to select a speaker to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival, and the first Thanksgiving.
Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their “American” descendants planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag, the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner.
Frank James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners, however, asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it turned out that Frank James’ views, based on history rather than mythology, were not what the Pilgrims’ descendants wanted to hear. Frank James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person. James did not speak at the anniversary celebration. If he had spoken, this is what he would have said:
I speak to you as a man — a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction (“You must succeed – your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!”). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first – but we are termed “good citizens.” Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.
It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.
Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans.
Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts.
This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.
What happened in those short 50 years? What has happened in the last 300 years? History gives us facts and there were atrocities; there were broken promises – and most of these centered around land ownership. Among ourselves we understood that there were boundaries, but never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned.
Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so-called “savages.” Although the Puritans were harsh to members of their own society, the Indian was pressed between stone slabs and hanged as quickly as any other “witch.”
And so down through the years there is record after record of Indian lands taken and with reservations set up for him upon which to live. The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain.
This the Indian could not understand; for to him, land was survival, to farm, to hunt, to be enjoyed. It was not to be abused. We see incident after incident, where the white man sought to tame the “savage” and convert him to the Christian ways of life. The early Pilgrim settlers led the Indian to believe that if he did not behave, they would dig up the ground and unleash the great epidemic again.
The white man used the Indian’s nautical skills and abilities. They let him be only a seaman — but never a captain. Time and time again, in the white man’s society, we Indians have been termed “low man on the totem pole.”
Has the Wampanoag really disappeared? There is still an aura of mystery. We know there was an epidemic that took many Indian lives – some Wampanoags moved west and joined the Cherokee and Cheyenne. They were forced to move. Some even went north to Canada! Many Wampanoag put aside their Indian heritage and accepted the white man’s way for their own survival.
History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it.
Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.
The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his “savageness” has boomeranged and isn’t a mystery; it is fear.
High on a hill, overlooking the famed Plymouth Rock, stands the statue of our great Sachem, Massasoit. Massasoit has stood there many years in silence. We the descendants of this great Sachem have been a silent people. The necessity of making a living in this materialistic society of the white man caused us to be silent.
Although time has drained our culture, and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. We may be fragmented, we may be confused. Many years have passed since we have been a people together. Our lands were invaded. We fought as hard to keep our land as you whites did to take our land away from us. We were conquered, we became the American prisoners of war in many cases, and wards of the United States Government, until only recently.
Our spirit refuses to die. Yesterday we walked the woodland paths and sandy trails. Today we must walk the macadam highways and roads. We are uniting. We are standing not in our wigwams but in your concrete tent. We stand tall and proud, and before too many moons pass we’ll right the wrongs we have allowed to happen to us.
We forfeited our country. Our lands have fallen into the hands of the aggressor. We have allowed the white man to keep us on our knees. What has happened cannot be changed, but today we must work towards a more humane America, a more Indian America, where men and nature once again are important; where the Indian values of honor, truth, and brotherhood prevail.
You the white man are celebrating an anniversary. We the Wampanoags will help you celebrate in the concept of a beginning. It was the beginning of a new life for the Pilgrims. Now, 350 years later it is a beginning of a new determination for the original American: the American Indian.
We now have 350 years of experience living amongst the white man. We can now speak his language. We can now think as a white man thinks. We can now compete with him for the top jobs. We’re being heard; we are now being listened to. The important point is that along with these necessities of everyday living, we still have the spirit, we still have the unique culture, we still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as Indians. We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American Indian, particularly the Wampanoag, to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.
Though James was not allowed to give his speech in 1970, a plaque on Cole’s Hill, overlooking Plymouth Rock, reads:
“Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers.
“To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”
Gary G. Kohls, MD, is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) and is a member of a local non-denominational affiliate of ECAPC, the Community of the Third Way.