Busting the Thanksgiving Myth

Jeanne Sager

pilgrimsChances are you're going to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow. And you're going to feel good about yourself, all caught up in that turkey tryptophan haze and the memories of the cute little kids bouncing around playing Pilgrims and Indians.

Let's burst that bubble, shall we? Thanksgiving is not a happy holiday.

The fourth Thursday in November is the National Day of Mourning for Native American people, a whole group of whom will gather near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts tomorrow to remember a Thanksgiving story that won't play out in any elementary school today.

There won't be kids with buckles on their hats or construction paper feathers sticking out of their hair. And they won't be celebrating the plucky Pilgrims making it through a hard winter in 1621 and setting up a big old table full of foods that would make the farmers' market cliche kvell.

It's a nice story, especially the popular part where Governor William Bradford invited the Wampanoag Indians in to share the feast.

But the story of a harvest conveniently ignores one of the other lessons we're trying to drill into our kids' heads these days -- know where your food comes from! It being olden days, their eats all came straight from the ground. That's the same ground that belonged to the Wampanoags pure and simple until the Puritans pulled up to Plymouth Rock in the Mayflower and decided to lay claim.

No big deal. The Native Americans were acting like good kindergartners, sharing their land and showing off their planting skills. But not every Native American wanted to roll over and play patsy.

Which made those perky Pilgrims cranky and blood thirsty. They started setting fires in the villages of the Pequot tribe, who dared say, "Eh, so you're a white man, big whoop. We're keeping our land."

Remember that kindly Governor Bradford? He wasn't feeling the love when he wrote:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire ... horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

Ah yes, the stink of those dying people was a total bummer. But it's OK because we prayed!

Governor Bradford was a gem compared to Massachusetts governor John Winthrop. A few years after Bradford made nicey nice with the Native Americans, Winthrop stepped up to make the official "Thanksgiving" declaration. He called for a holiday to celebrate the Pilgrims being done with those pesky Native Americans. "This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots," he said.

Are you squirming yet? Maybe this will make you choke on your turkey: Historians estimate 700 Indian men, women, and children were killed during that "subduing." They killed little kids kind of like the cutie with the paper feathers sticking out of her hair at the kindergarten up the street.

Are you sure you want to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Image via srqpix/Flickr

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