Before I begin to cook, I wanted to share some information regarding the myth of Thanksgiving that was prepared for teachers. Originally written and developed by Cathy Ross, Mary Robertson, Chuck Larsen, and Roger Fernandes for the Indian Education program at Highline School District in Tacoma, Teaching About Thanksgiving explores factual information regarding this holiday. As the authors write,
So what do we teach to our children? We usually pass on unquestioned what we all received in our own childhood classrooms. I have come to know both the truths and the myths about our “First Thanksgiving,” and I feel we need to try to reach beyond the myths to some degree of historic truth.
How will you teach your children about this day of thanks, that initiated the genocide of Native Americans? Here are some highlights from Teaching About Thanksgiving:
- The Puritans were political revolutionaries who believed in Armageddon. They believed they were the “chosen elect” mentioned in Revelations. “They strove to ‘purify’ first themselves and then everyone else of everything they did not accept in their own interpretation of scripture. Later New England Puritans used any means, including deceptions, treachery, torture, war, and genocide to achieve that end.”
- The Wampanoag Native Americans were members of the confederacy of the League of the Delaware. Their religion embraced charity and hospitality “to anyone who came to them with empty hands.” Squanto, the Indian hero of the Thanksgiving story, had a very close relationship with British explorer John Weymouth, before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Squanto associated the Puritans with Weymouth’s people.
- “To the Pilgrims the Indians were heathens and, therefore, the natural instruments of the Devil. Squanto, as the only educated and baptized Christian among the Wampanoag, was seen as merely an instrument of God, set in the wilderness to provide for the survival of His chosen people, the Pilgrims.”
- A generation later, the attendees of the first Thanksgiving “were striving to kill each other in the genocidal conflict known as King Philip’s War”. By the end of the war, most of the New England Indians were either exterminated, refugees in Canada, or sold into slavery.
As I watched a Yurok family yesterday shopping for their Thanksgiving meal, I wondered how they taught their children about this holiday. This week, my daughter has brought home from school the typical coloring sheets, dot-to-dots, pamphlets, etc. regarding this holiday, and my thoughts have dwelled on the honesty in education. A wonderful resource for teachers and parents is the book Rethinking Columbus, which has many ideas and resources for presenting this part of history to our children. I especially like the article on a Native American stepping off an airplane in Italy and declaring he had “discovered” the country. How can you discover a country when people are already living there?
As we feast with our families and friends today, we must be thankful for the stability in our lives and not forget that genocide is still occurring in Dafur. I am also thankful for the good health my family and friends enjoy. Just three years ago, my extended family spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. My infant son had open-heart surgery the day before Thanksgiving. There is so much to be thankful for today, but I am not sure world dominance is one of those things.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Lori Allen says
Thank you for publishing this. As someone whose graduate work focused on history of discrimination in the US since 1877, I am very much aware of the “myths” of our founding. I now have an 8 year old. This is VERY helpful in teaching her about the real importance of thanksgiving – ancient harvest feasts – and about the “american myths” the mainstream public accepts without question.
We celebrate thanksgiving at our church – Unitarian Universalist – and I will be sharing this with the other 30-50 who show up this afternoon.
I didn’t know the origins of thanksgiving. Thanks for the info. I do give thanks to God that where I live is pretty safe compared to many places. I also give thanks for my health after having had cancer. God Bless you,
Charlie Burrow says
Thanks for publishing Chuck Larsen’s Thanksgiving essay. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it in the same light, including Pam Dzama, a columnist for the local Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, Washington): http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2007/nov/21/pam-dzama-giving-thanks-for-our-unique-nation/
Sandwiched between syrupy tributes to our “traditional” Thanksgiving is her nasty attack on Larsen’s piece, which was originally published as the introduction to a Thanksgiving teaching guide by the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction: http://www.k12.wa.us/CISL/pubdocs/TeachingAboutThanksgiving.pdf
Jennifer Lance says
Charlie, thanks for the links and presenting the other side.
Thanks for the facts, Jennifer and Charlie. As a Mohawk, I find it quite tiring that people like Pam accuse us of promoting political correctness when we seek to advance the truth about any historical event involving us. It is interesting that Pam points to the rise of cultural relativism and the lack of good or bad cultures. It shows a completely sublimated prejudice that sparked the article in the first place. Puritans = good Indians = bad
Special thanks to Charlie for mentioning the Iroquois Confederacy’s influence on the US principles of democracy. The link between Ben Franklin and the Haudensonee is often overlooked or discredited but it did exist and was very influential on the formation of the USA.
Otto Strasburg says
I am always surprised at how we Americans feel the need to denigrate our history, ancestors, and heritage with the “facts”. Teaching little children about the horrible Pilgrims and trying to make children feel guilty about Thanksgiving is a good example.
First, the Pilgrims and Puritans were not the same people as insinuated in the article even though they were both English and moved to North America for religious freedom which they denied to everyone else. Puritans eventually became Presbyterians and Pilgrims become Congregationalists. The Plymouth Colony never prospered like the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was eventually absorbed.
Second, mythology is important to all people. Our history and religions are filled with myths. I am defining a myth as a story that is passed down from generation to generation and teaches a lesson or serves as an example. It may or may not be true and that really does not mater. The lesson from the Thanksgiving myth is that we should be thankful for the bounty God has provided and be willing to share it with our neighbors.
Is everything in the Thanksgiving myth historically factual? Of course it isn’t. It probably was not even the first English Thanksgiving in North America. The wonderful article on Jamestown in National Geographic claims that those settlers celebrated a thanksgiving before Plymouth was settled.
Third, all history is interpretation and most people interpret their history in the most favorable light. “Facts” are used to show our interpretations are correct. No one would deny the horrible treatment of the Native Americans by the European conquerors and settlers. It included every terrible thing people did to other people up to that time and it is impossible to justify even when looking through the lens of the world in the 17th Century. However, that does not mean that we should denigrate Thanksgiving for our children. It should continue to be a celebration of the bounty that God has provided and a way of encouraging us to share that bounty with our neighbors, even if they are different from us.
Kelli Best-Oliver says
I respectfully disagree. To teach children to glorify a mythology that disregards systemic oppression is to teach children that history is unimportant. As the adage goes, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” To say that history is interpretation and therefore all history is subjective, therefore we should no examine it is irresponsible. That’s the same argument that my high school English students say when we interpret literature. Just because examination of a situation or event is subjective doesn’t mean it is not a worthwhile pursuit.
Otto Strasburg says
Kelli, I certainly can see your point. However, I wonder what we can celebrate. Certainly not Independence Day because there was still slavery in the new United States and the slaves were not free. I would have trouble with Christmas and Easter because of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and all of the other horrible things that have happened in the name of Christianity. For Veteran’s Day we could celebrate our brave servicemen except there have been millions of innocents killed in the wars in which they fought. Labor Day sounds safe until I think about all of the strikes and the people that have been harmed or even killed in the labor movement. New Year’s Day is fine since we do not know what injustices will occur in the new year.
I intend to continue to celebrate all of these holidays. As a history teacher I will teach about the horrible treatment of the Native Americans but on Thanksgiving Day I am willing to be thankful for all of our blessings and be willing to share with my neighbors, even if they are different.
Jennifer Lance says
I should have mentioned in the post that I think Thanksgiving is a harvest feast, to celebrate the bounty nature has provided for the winter months. I believe harvest feasts are an ancient tradition of any agriculture society. That is what I think the “truth” is about Thanksgiving.
I do think we do our children a disservice by glossing over the realties of Native American relations with white settlers. The truth is harsh, but we need to understand it to prevent further atrocities from occurring. Can you imagine putting a bounty on the heads on the offspring or relatives of your Thanksgiving dinner guests? The treatment of native people by this country is horrid, and the effects are still seen today on any reservation.
Jennifer Lance says
Interesting article on Worker’s World today:
“Hundreds of Native people and their supporters gathered in Plymouth, Mass., on Nov. 22 to commemorate the 38th National Day of Mourning…
“The first official ‘Day of Thanksgiving’ was proclaimed in 1637 by Governor Winthrop. He did so to celebrate the safe return of the men from Massachusetts who had gone to Mystic, Conn., to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot women, children and men.”
Bob Bryant says
I am amazed at the lack of primary sources, which any credible historian would certainly rely. Anyone who has read the essay by Larsen would recognize the same old socio-marxist paradigm that sullies pop-culture historiography such as this. Surprise, surprise that a unitarian undergrad majoring in discrimination would find this insightful. Who has the more reliable vantagepoint of a car wreck, all those who saw the wreck from various perspectives, or those who comment on the wreck, quoting here-say from gossips and sophists hundreds of generations past? Come on people – Ad Fontes!