It’s Thanksgiving here in the States, and I woke up this morning on the fence about whether or not I wanted to write about it. It’s a holiday that as children we are taught originated when Pilgrims and Native North American indigenous Tribes came together in peace to feast on the year’s harvest, putting a happy spin on what preceded the displacement and genocide of millions of Native Americans. The “First Thanksgiving” took place in the autumn of 1621, after colonists initiated a relationship with the Wampanoag tribe. Historians agree that there was a three day celebration with Wampanoag and Pilgrims hanging around together and eating, but the particulars of their interactions are a bit muddled between capable-colonial attitudes and few eye-witness records.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, some research turned up a few different interpretations of the 1621 feast, but the account I hold in authority is that of Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. In an interview, she gives insight into the different perspectives the Tribe had about the colonists back then. They were visitors vulnerable to the land, and had asked for help in surviving the environment that had already killed half their people. The Tribe was empathetic, hanging around and observing the Pilgrims to be sure that they had good intentions. Check out the link to the article. It’s a quick read, one infinitely more credible than the tales we were told as kids.
What struck me most was that the interview concluded with Ramona speaking about celebration, and giving thanks, rather than rebelling against the National holiday. It is important to be grateful for the things we have, she reminds us, and that celebrations across cultures exist as a way of commemorating that gratitude. Stripping away the Capitalist commercial efforts toward exhaustive grocery shopping lists and the infamous Black Friday, we can be thankful to all of Creation by being creators ourselves, and using our talents to give thanks in action. She will be celebrating with her family, thoughtfully, with food, music and dance.
So I will be approaching this and following Thanksgivings the way Ramona suggests, in a way the Wampanoag and other Tribes have approached this time of year. I will be celebrating togetherness with others, while taking action toward a world I want to be a part of. Today I made donations to the Native American Right’s Fund, a group describing themselves as providing legal assistance to tribes, organizations, and individuals in such critical areas as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, and Indian education, and to the Association of American Indian Affairs who say they formed in 1922 to change the destructive path of federal policy from assimilation, termination and allotment, to sovereignty, self-determination and self-sufficiency. I also regularly support journalism, so I became an online subscriber to Native American Today, a publication who’s self-described mission is to bring forward current news and thought-provoking journalism, while bringing people closer together by broadening perspectives of Native American peoples, marginalized by traditional stereotypical images. I encourage you to also make donations to these or other organizations focused on supporting Native lands, Tribes, and their people.
Tonight I will be eating delicious vegetarian food with gratitude that I am in good health, have grass to walk on, and relatively clean air to breathe. I will be vocal about the people that have helped get me to where I am, and ready myself to continue working hard to help educate others on ways that can increase their quality of life. I’ll be setting more intentions for writing, choreography, and music, grateful at my ability to artistically participate in the world around me. Most importantly, I will be spending time with family I grew up around, catching up, laughing and making jokes. I may not be able to go back and erase the destruction of the past, but I can honor those that came before me by actively bringing growth, peace, and love to the present. Whether you’re with family, friends, or acquaintances, I hope you will do the same.