Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The True Meaning Of Thanksgiving
Cherokee Prayer Blessing
May the Warm Winds of Heaven
Blow softly upon your house.
May the Great Spirit
Bless all who enter there.
May your Mocassins
Make happy tracks
in many snows,
and may the Rainbow
Always touch your shoulder.
Native American Prayer
Oh, Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
hear me, I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes ever behold
the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things
you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have
hidden in every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my Spirit may come to you without shame.
(translated by Lakota Sioux Chief Yellow Lark in 1887)
published in Native American Prayers - by the Episcopal Church.
The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.
But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.
In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared "A Day Of Thanksgiving" because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.
Cheered by their "victory", the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.
Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of "thanksgiving" to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts -- where it remained on display for 24 years.
The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War -- on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.
This story doesn't have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won't ever be repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank God for all your blessings, think about those people who only wanted to live their lives and raise their families. They, also took time out to say "thank you" to Creator for all their blessings.
At this point you are probably asking, "What is the big deal about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims?" "What does this guy mean by a mixture of truths and myth?" That is just what this introduction is all about. I propose that there may be a good deal that many of us do not know about our Thanksgiving holiday and also about the "First Thanksgiving" story. I also propose that what most of us have learned about the Pilgrims and the Indians who were at the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation is only part of the truth. When you build a lesson on only half of the information, then you are not teaching the whole truth. That is why I used the word myth. So where do you start to find out more about the holiday and our modern stories about how it began?
A good place to start is with a very important book, "The Invasion of America," by Francis Jennings. It is a very authoritative text on the settlement of New England and the evolution of Indian/White relations in the New England colonies. I also recommend looking up any good text on British history. Check out the British Civil War of 1621-1642, Oliver Cromwell, and the Puritan uprising of 1653 which ended parliamentary government in England until 1660. The history of the Puritan experience in New England really should not be separated from the history of the Puritan experience in England. You should also realize that the "Pilgrims" were a sub sect, or splinter group, of the Puritan movement. They came to America to achieve on this continent what their Puritan bretheran continued to strive for in England; and when the Puritans were forced from England, they came to New England and soon absorbed the original "Pilgrims."
When comparing the events stirred on by the Puritans in England with accounts of Puritan/Pilgrim activities in New England in the same era, several provocative things suggest themselves:
1. The Puritans were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. They were political revolutionaries who not only intended to overthrow the government of England, but who actually did so in 1649.
2. The Puritan "Pilgrims" who came to New England were not simply refugees who decided to "put their fate in God's hands" in the "empty wilderness" of North America, as a generation of Hollywood movies taught us. In any culture at any time, settlers on a frontier are most often outcasts and fugitives who, in some way or other, do not fit into the mainstream of their society. This is not to imply that people who settle on frontiers have no redeeming qualities such as bravery, etc., but that the images of nobility that we associate with the Puritans are at least in part the good "P.R." efforts of later writers who have romanticized them. It is also very plausible that this unnaturally noble image of the Puritans is all wrapped up with the mythology of "Noble Civilization" vs. "Savagery." At any rate, mainstream Englishmen considered the Pilgrims to be deliberate religious dropouts who intended to found a new nation completely independent from non-Puritan England. In 1643 the Puritan/Pilgrims declared themselves an independent confederacy, one hundred and forty-three years before the American Revolution. They believed in the imminent occurrence of Armegeddon in Europe and hoped to establish here in the new world the "Kingdom of God" foretold in the book of Revelation. They diverged from their Puritan brethren who remained in England only in that they held little real hope of ever being able to successfully overthrow the King and Parliament and, thereby, impose their "Rule of Saints" (strict Puritan orthodoxy) on the rest of the British people. So they came to America not just in one ship (the Mayflower) but in a hundred others as well, with every intention of taking the land away from its native people to build their prophesied "Holy Kingdom.
3. The Pilgrims were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. They were victims of bigotry in England, but some of them were themselves religious bigots by our modern standards. The Puritans and the Pilgrims saw themselves as the "Chosen Elect" mentioned in the book of Revelation. 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. They saw themselves as fighting a holy war against Satan, and everyone who disagreed with them was the enemy. This rigid fundamentalism was transmitted to America by the Plymouth colonists, and it sheds a very different light on the "Pilgrim" image we have of them. This is best illustrated in the written text of the Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plymouth in 1623 by "Mather the Elder." In it, Mather the Elder gave special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox which wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag Indians who had been their benefactors. He praised God for destroying "chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth", i.e., the Pilgrims. In as much as these Indians were the Pilgrim's benefactors, and Squanto, in particular, was the instrument of their salvation that first year, how are we to interpret this apparent callousness towards their misfortune?
4. The Wampanoag Indians were not the "friendly savages" some of us were told about when we were in the primary grades. Nor were they invited out of the goodness of the Pilgrims' hearts to share the fruits of the Pilgrims' harvest in a demonstration of Christian charity and interracial brotherhood. The Wampanoag were members of a widespread confederacy of Algonkian-speaking peoples known as the League of the Delaware. For six hundred years they had been defending themselves from my other ancestors, the Iroquois, and for the last hundred years they had also had encounters with European fishermen and explorers but especially with European slavers, who had been raiding their coastal villages. They knew something of the power of the white people, and they did not fully trust them. But their religion taught that they were to give charity to the helpless and hospitality to anyone who came to them with empty hands. Also, Squanto, the Indian hero of the Thanksgiving story, had a very real love for a British explorer named John Weymouth, who had become a second father to him several years before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth. Clearly, Squanto saw these Pilgrims as 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. The Indians were comparatively powerful and, therefore, dangerous; and they were to be courted until the next ships arrived with more Pilgrim colonists and the balance of power shifted. The Wampanoag were actually invited to that Thanksgiving feast for the purpose of negotiating a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims. It should also be noted that the INDIANS, possibly out of a sense of charity toward their hosts, ended up bringing the majority of the food for the feast.
5. A generation later, after the balance of power had indeed shifted, the Indian and White children of that Thanksgiving were striving to kill each other in the genocidal conflict known as King Philip's War. At the end of that conflict most of the New England Indians were either exterminated or refugees among the French in Canada, or they were sold into slavery in the Carolinas by the Puritans. So successful was this early trade in Indian slaves that several Puritan ship owners in Boston began the practice of raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa for black slaves to sell to the proprietary colonies of the South, thus founding the American-based slave trade.
Obviously there is a lot more to the story of Indian/Puritan relations in New England than in the thanksgiving stories we heard as children. Our contemporary mix of myth and history about the "First" Thanksgiving at Plymouth developed in the 1890s and early 1900s. Our country was desperately trying to pull together its many diverse peoples into a common national identity. To many writers and educators at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, this also meant having a common national history. This was the era of the "melting pot" theory of social progress, and public education was a major tool for social unity. It was with this in mind that the federal government declared the last Thursday in November as the legal holiday of Thanksgiving in 1898.
In consequence, what started as an inspirational bit of New England folklore, soon grew into the full-fledged American Thanksgiving we now know. It emerged complete with stereotyped Indians and stereotyped Whites, incomplete history, and a mythical significance as our "First Thanksgiving." But was it really our FIRST American Thanksgiving?
Now that I have deliberately provoked you with some new information and different opinions, please take the time to read some of the texts in our bibliography. I want to encourage you to read further and form your own opinions. There really is a TRUE Thanksgiving story of Plymouth Plantation. But I strongly suggest that there always has been a Thanksgiving story of some kind or other for as long as there have been human beings. There was also a "First" Thanksgiving in America, but it was celebrated thirty thousand years ago. At some time during the New Stone Age (beginning about ten thousand rs ago) Thanksgiving became associated with giving thanks to God for the harvests of the land. Thanksgiving has always been a time of people coming together, so thanks has also been offered for that gift of fellowship between us all. Every last Thursday in November we now partake in one of the OLDEST and most UNIVERSAL of human celebrations, and THERE ARE MANY THANKSGIVING STORIES TO TELL.
As for Thanksgiving week at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, the friendship was guarded and not always sincere, and the peace was very soon abused. But for three days in New England's history, peace and friendship were there.
Today is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That the and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people.
~~~~Native American Food ~~~~
Also a palate-pleaser with Native Americans, this crispy, flattened dough has the vibe of a beignet. Fry bread gets served as a side dish, or as a beef-topped main or honey-drizzled dessert.
A toasted pine-nut soup with a lamb-bone, wild bird, and milk broth, have hearty and hot components, owing to red chile powder, coriander, mint, and plentiful scallions.
Roasted Sweet Corn in its Husk
A favorite of southern tribes, Indian corn cobs cook slowly in their vegetal shells, preserving moisture. Said to be tastier than straight-up boiled or grilled corn, the damp charred husk perfumes the air with a sweet scent.
Zuni Green Chili Stew
This lamb stew simmers in a fresh, local chili puree. Juniper, green onions, and wild garlic add flavor to the broth.
Chippewa Wild Rice
This casserole boasts strips of beaten wild fowl, eggs, and chunks of smoked meat. Typically, wild boar bacon gets used in this dish, but smoked deer meat also works. Garnish with wild chives.
Wild Salmon Poached in Sea Water
Many Native Indians in the Pacific Northwest prepped red salmon steaks in a willow basket cooked at a bare boil. They then spiced the filets with chiles and herbs.
Baked Squash and Wild Onions
Another dish, besides corn, that's often found at American Indian harvest festivals. Many versions of roasted gourd still wind up on the Thanksgiving table -- making it one of the only traditional dishes that has been preserved in popular American cookery.
Wild Rice and Cranberries
This tart, red fruit comes from the Northeast. A favorite way to prep it?
American Indians would blend cranberries with wild rice, sometimes adding other fruits or nuts. Variations of this dish -- which reflect the plants of a region -- can be found throughout the Americas.
In Wompanoag society, women would tend the fields and the hearth, while the men hunted plentiful wild fowl and hoofed forest beats. What they would make with a day's game: sobaheg, a rib-sticking meat stew. Grits, squash, and powdered seeds and nuts helped thicken this artichoke-laden soup.
Most Native Indian tribes prepared dough from maize, since it grew throughout the Americas. The Wompanoag did too. At the first Thanksgiving, it is possible that this starchy staple came served with curds -- a dairy product similar to modern-day cottage cheese.
Please be thankful for what you have today in your life, I know that I have so much in my Life to be Thankful for. HappY Thanksgving to you all.