From childhood I have been uneasy with the the way Native peoples were talked about, especially around Thanksgiving. As a child I didn’t quite know what it was, but something was wrong with the story. As I learned more about the genocide and theft of land, the endless broken treaties and the ongoing struggles of First Nations People, I looked for another way to spend the holiday. For many years we celebrated the harvest of our small farm with friends and family, preparing a meal almost entirely home grown.
In the late 1990s, my family began traveling to Plymouth, Massachusetts to attend the National Day of Mourning held by the United American Indians of New England. The orientation leaflet for the day states "An annual tradition since 1970, Day of Mourning is a solemn, spiritual and highly political day. Many of us fast from sundown the day before through the afternoon of that day (and have a social after the Day of Mourning so that participants can break their fasts). We are mourning our ancestors and the genocide of our peoples and the theft of our lands." Non-Native supporters are welcome to stand with the gathering, but it is a day when only indigenous people speak about their history and the struggles taking place through out the Americas. Being present each year has become an important way to honor the more difficult history that brings us to the present.
With hopes that I could find a more complete telling of the story for my grandchildren, I wandered into one of my favorite independent bookstores that has a fabulous children's section. I was distressed to find a display of picture books that fell into roughly two categories - books that replay the mythology of the Pilgrims and the Indians as one big happy family having a festival together, or ones that focused on Thanksgiving as a family time (and sometimes a harvest time) - and all the people at the table were white. I was amazed to see how little had changed.
But then, I shouldn’t be amazed. The work of AFSC in grappling with structural racism and other remnants of colonialism have taught me how deeply embedded they are, both in the U.S. and around the globe. So this Thanksgiving/Day of Mourning, I invite you to spend a little time thinking about the continuing impact of the colonization of this land and its peoples, about how histories/origin stories get written and by whom, and what stories we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren. And for those who want to offer alternative stories to the children in your life, go to the article in Colorlines that offers five books that reframe the Thanksgiving Narrative. And here is a piece on the Wampanoag Side of the Story.
In peace, Martha