Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and the national holiday comes with anxiety for a variety of reasons.
From the awkward silence created by in-laws who ask inappropriate questions to discussions about why First People don’t feel at home in America, there’s a lot on the table. It all depends on the story you gather around. It will determine if you sit down on the last Thursday of November and say, “Pass the gravy.”
I know “it is good to give thanks to the Lord,” but for many members of the Indigenous community or Host People, the day reminds them of their forced removal and the land that was stolen from them during colonization. Consequently, it is considered a “national day of mourning” for many.
Last year, William J. Kole of the Associated Press reported that members of native tribes gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, not to give thanks but to mourn their ancestors lost to disease and colonial oppression.
“The English crown utilized Christianity as its moral and ethical rationale to justify its claims to lands in the New World. Henry VII ordered the Cabots ‘to seek out and discover all. … provinces whatsoever that may belong to heathens and infidels’ and ‘to subdue, occupy, and possess these territories,’” Richard Twiss wrote in Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way. “In 1813, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that Indians could not own real property since ‘not being Christians, but mere heathens [they are] unworthy of the earth.’”
Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah called the truths about the ongoing legacy of the doctrine of discovery unsettling.
“Narratives have the power to shape both positive change and negative change. Unfortunately, dysfunctional narratives adversely shaped the story of the United States as well as the Christian church,” they wrote in Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. “Stolen lands, broken treaties, massacres, boarding schools, forced assimilation, and Indian reservations populate a partial list of not only sins but unspeakable crimes that have been perpetrated against Native peoples in the name of Christ.”
Both men are right, though capitalism says we should use the day off to enjoy friends and family members. But, also, don’t forget to go shopping!
After you have stuffed your face with turkey, we are encouraged to stuff shopping carts with Black Friday deals. But what is this consumeristic cycle costing us? What are we buying into when the façade of a family gathering hides a history of trauma?
We are not simply asking relatives to save us a seat but to save the false narrative of “the pilgrims and the Indians.”
“The myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them and then disappear. They hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. That’s the story — it’s about Native people conceding to colonialism. It’s bloodless and in many ways an extension of the ideology of Manifest Destiny,” wrote Claire Bugos, a correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine.
After we have scraped the dishes and loaded the dishwasher, the story is not over.
“Surviving as a people in the face of a society that wanted to dispossess them and deny who they were was their great contest. It is a struggle — a fundamentally colonial one — that has lasted to this very day,” said David J. Silverman in This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.
More so, we are still “recovering not discovering” the bodies of Indigenous children, victims of residential schools. Their families still need answers and justice for those who will never sit around a table again.
What story are we going to tell them?