Their homes were attacked and destroyed systematically and a disproportionate amount of women and children were mutilated by their attackers–slowly tortured and cut into pieces.
They were dragged from their homes and forced to walk thousands of miles towards “relocation”–without adequate food or clothing, many thousands perishing along the way.
They suffered from enemy-created famine and starvation.
They were targets of germ warfare, receiving disease infested blankets and materials that would ultimately kill off 90% of their population.
They were abducted and funneled into the slave trade.
They were forced to be sterilized in an attempt to wipe out their race.
They were treated as less than human, legislated against by all branches and levels of government and an overwhelming percentage of their population was successfully eliminated by these strategic, barbaric, horrific tactics.
BUT tomorrow we’ll sit down and celebrate the 321st anniversary of a meal we shared with them.
The fact that our colonial relatives would almost immediately go on to commit all of the aforementioned crimes against their Native American dinner guests seems to have gotten lost in the details.
It’s no secret that these atrocities occurred, though to see many contemporary Thanksgiving celebrations one might be compelled to believe that it is. Amidst the pumpkin pie gorging, the football watching, the President pardoning a turkey and the 44×63 foot Ronald McDonald floating through the parading streets of Manhattan, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of wiggle room for things like history and reality.
When I take a step back and consider Thanksgiving, I know that it is supposed to be a celebration of a day when unlike people from unlike places came together in friendship to appreciate the abundance that could come through unity–the fallacy of this friendship and the insincerity of this unity makes the Holiday incredibly complicated at the least and abhorrently fraudulent when taken to its logical conclusion.
In blatant truth: Tomorrow we sit down and feast in honor of a fake truce, a bold lie and a false sense of security that ultimately helped to facilitate a genocide perpetrated by our ancestors.
When presented in those terms, it probably makes the most sense to forget about the holiday all together–deflate the hovering Macy’s Day balloons, send the football players back to the locker rooms and overwhelm the grocery stores with mass returns of turkey.
In another time, I likely would have advocated just that. But as a semi-older, semi-wiser individual, I’ve arrived at a slightly different line of thinking.
You see, it might be 321 years since that fateful meal but the violence surrounding it continues to be an overwhelming part of our lives and our world. Flip on the news and you’ll see that slavery, forced relocation, murder, famine, starvation and violent attacks perpetrated against one and other are anything but history. We might have built infrastructure and innovation, we might have new technologies and new governments but that unity between unlike people from unlike places is just as elusive for us as it was for the Pilgrims and Native Americans who attempted to find it while breaking bread so many years ago.
So what do we do with this dark and painfully misunderstood holiday? Can we really continue it in good faith if we understand and acknowledge the realities of what we’re celebrating?
My opinion vacillates feverishly between ABSOLUTELY NOT and WE ABSOLUTELY MUST.
Because while the reality of Thanksgiving’s history is atrocious, the idea behind it is (in my opinion) worth holding on to.
The purported goal of Thanksgiving was one of openness and shared prosperity. And while it is important to acknowledge that openness and shared prosperity did not follow, it might be equally important to acknowledge that it could have. That our current dealings with unlike people from unlike places don’t have to mimic our past and that unity doesn’t need to remain so elusive.
So tomorrow, I will not cast off Thanksgiving. I will not tell the 25 friends and family members currently sleeping in my house to take a hike. (Though there are a few of them I’d probably like to.) I will even make traced-hand turkey art with my baby cousins and perhaps catch a few minutes of that high-flying helium parade. But in addition to my handful of traditions, I will add several more to the Thanksgiving Day to-do list. (I humbly invite you to join me.)
1. Plan a meal (not too far in the future) with people who are radically different from myself.
2. Commit to being kind more often–especially in the face of those who are unkind.
3. Reflect on the fact that my color, culture, nationality, belief-system, sexual identity and personal convictions must always be secondary to my humanity.
4. Make sure to embody and share what I know to be true: while we can’t rewrite the past, we can reconsider the present and reframe the future.
Let’s hope that some day, we’ll give our descendants a much more worthy cause for celebration.