Posted on Saturday, November 29th, 2008 at 8:11 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
Families gathered across the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving together this week. For some it involved a great deal of travel and stress. Hours of labour were spent in an attempt to create the perfect meal. This holiday, unlike Christmas, is meant to simply be about coming together as a family to give thanks for another year, and for the bounty Americans typically have in their lives.
What is conveniently ignored is the cause of that bounty. After the dishes are washed and every stomach is sated, at its heart, Thanksgiving is the macabre celebration of the near genocide of the Indigenous Peoples.
We teach our children fairytales about the day to maintain the national myth of the benign Pilgrim and the friendly Indian. Schools reinforce the message with the performance of pageants. This holiday is pure Americana, and it is pure revisionist history.
Year after year the Indigenous peoples have complained about the fact that this is a day which should be a national day of mourning, instead it is treated as a celebration. It is as though we are dancing in joy over the trail of tears, as we pass the mashed potatoes to one another.
The American way of life was built upon the colonization of Indigenous peoples and no matter how we choose to obscure this; it is a stark reality from which we cannot run from. The blood of untold millions has fed the earth and the land; therefore the food which is reaped in harvest is a testimony to conquest.
Though we have primarily created the pilgrims as people fleeing prosecution their role in the murder of over 700 Pequot people is the real genesis of the Thanksgiving Day feast:
‘Thanksgiving’ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the ‘pilgrim’ survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’ meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited!…
Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut. They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’….
When it conflicted with their self interest the Pilgrims had no issues moving from the category of oppressed to oppressor.
We do not think about massacres as the gravy rounds the table because that would just ruin the spirit of the day. There is no room for reality if the national myth is to be maintained.
What is most interesting is that right after thanksgiving comes Black Friday. This is the biggest shopping day in the US. I find it quite ironic that after spending a day re writing history in the supposed mission of promoting family and thankfulness, that the very next day Americans swarm the malls in a consumption cornucopia.
How quickly the supposed brotherhood is cast aside in the opportunity to purchase cheaply made products. Each year someone is injured and/or killed in the stampede to consume, and this year is already no different.
Of course this vapid consumerism is in the name of love. On Thanksgiving family is all about ignoring history and bloodshed and on Black Friday it is about buying as much as possible on credit to ensure that those we are close to feel loved. Am I alone in seeing the irony of this? These two days combined form the greatest celebration of exploitation in American culture.
We love our families so we feast in denial and then the next day we purchase cheaply made items; most likely made in sweatshops by foreign workers. It seems that these two days serve as the perfect example of what the US stands for, privilege at all cost.
It may be wrapped in pretty platitudes and explained away as a way of showing love, but these two days make it obvious to all concerned that for certain Americans the ability to exploit is very much a part Americana.
Suggestions that Thanksgiving day be retooled are met with resistance. Tradition must be upheld at all cost. That the tradition we value is the ability to exploit is only confirmed the very next day at the mall. Who and how we value is strictly based in power. Those without the ability to function in a position of privilege due to class, or race are quickly caste aside like the remnants of history.
As much as we make walk with blinders on, racism is real and it has a terrible cost to the Indigenous peoples. Though we think we are doing something good by spending, especially in these tough economic times, no thought is given to the workers in the third world whose working conditions are atrocious.
The solution is not to prop up a decaying system that is predicated on exploitation and bloodshed but a re-envisioning of a way of life that truly values humanity. Years from now no one will remember if the mashed potatoes were lumpy, of if they magically got the last door crasher item at a sale, but if we all slowly consciously begin to reject the elements that project this as a positive display of humanity, perhaps we can create a tradition that is worthy of being remembered year after year.
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