Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Wampanoag Side of the Tale

From Indian Country, courtesy of a friend on Facebook:

When you hear about the Pilgrims and “the Indians” harmoniously sharing the “first Thanksgiving” meal in 1621, the Indians referred to so generically are the ancestors of the contemporary members of the Wampanoag Nation. As the story commonly goes, the Pilgrims who sailed from England on the Mayflower and landed at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 had a good harvest the next year. So Plymouth Gov. William Bradford organized a feast to celebrate the harvest and invited a group of “Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit” to the party. The feast lasted three days and, according to chronicler Edward Winslow, Bradford send four men on a “fowling mission” to prepare for the feast and the Wampanoag guests brought five deer to the party. And ever since then, the story goes, Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. Not exactly, Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer told Indian Country Today Media Network in a conversation on the day before Thanksgiving 2012—391 years since that mythological “first Thanksgiving.”

More here.

The friend who posted this did so with a request for commenters "to please view the day we call 'Thanksgiving' either in the traditional fashion, or as reported by a Wampanoag representative in the link below."  But, of course, the p.c. identity politics happened, anyway, so I just had to weigh in:

For the record, I HATE the Puritans. I mean, there's a reason we use the word "Puritanical" as a pejorative. They were awful people. Indeed, when they won the English Civil War in the seventeenth century, one of the first things they did was to shut down the theaters, and this was only a few decades after the time of Shakespeare. And I'm an actor. I take that personally.

And I'm well aware that the Thanksgiving mythology is exactly that, nationalistic mythology. And the reality is that the US government committed genocide against numerous North American indigenous peoples. And if I wanted, or so my Choctaw uncle tells me, I could be recognized by the Choctaw nation as a member. Having been raised a white guy, however, has made this a problematic identity issue for me for many years, and I've never gotten around to it. But the reality is that the destruction of Native Americans was so complete that I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of my cultural roots and blood.

So yes, I take these issues VERY SERIOUSLY.

But I don't understand why any of this means we cant give thanks as a nation every November. The world is far more sophisticated and nuanced than the evil-or-good construction offered by Shannon. Men are both good and bad. It is as absurd and self-destructive to negate the good as it is to negate the bad.
I later added this:
Look, I agree that we, as a nation, need much more awareness of our real history, and much less prevalence of the mythology--for instance, all this self-aggrandizing without admission of guilt leads to folly like invading Iraq on false pretenses, etc. But I am very wary of wallowing in guilt, too. And, for that matter, it will never fly. People need to be proud of who they are, which they can do while acknowledging their national sins, but it's impossible to have any self-respect if it's all about guilt.

Personally, I like how Toni introduced the link. You know, sort of "hey check this out, but let's not go to town on America for this." A really good balance. Information and understanding without castigation.
Anyway, stuff to think about this Thanksgiving.