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[xmca] An indigenous perspective on the American Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine because it doesn't involve the pressures that follow from acquisition. But when I lived in Oklahoma, I found out how disliked the holiday is by many Native Americans. This just in from a friend I've known for a while now who is pretty interesting in many ways:

From: Four Arrows (aka Don Jacobs) [mailto:DJacobs@fielding.edu]<mailto:[mailto:DJacobs@fielding.edu]>
Sent: Friday, November 25, 2011 4:52 PM
To: Peter Smagorinsky
Subject: Re: short fall color slideshow

Beautiful images...thanks... I missed you on this one so am sending now my annual Thanksgiving piece;

  Friends, Students and Colleagues,

     I write this short essay in appreciation for the beauty and blessings of life's gifts today, while at the same time wanting to create just enough cognitive dissonance in the reader to encourage a new approach to celebrating the American National Holiday known as Thanksgiving, one that will help assure that present and future generations can also give thanks and have a feast in honor of such blessings. I hope that my call for acknowledging and acting in accordance with the true history of this holiday will make it more authentic and more generous.
     Traditional Indigenous wisdom recognizes cognitive dissonance (CD), the uncomfortable feeling we are biologically supposed to have when there is a conflict between different perceptions that we hold. It realizes the CD is a healthy, natural human phenomenon. It is common for American Indian elders to offer respectful humor and to encourage laughter when someone is suffering through CD. We who might be considered as "elders" know it is too easy to escape from the choices that such dissonance is asking to make. We understand people want to feel supported, not ridiculed, so they are more likely to use the virtues of courage, honesty, fortitude, patience and humility to use CD to walk a morebalanced path.
     Unfortunately, in contemporary societies, both within Indian and non-Indian cultures, thiswisdom is largely ignored. People don't want to admit their contradictions and have learned to ignore them or otherwise escape somehow from having to consider them. The Thanksgiving Day holiday is an example of thislatter approach. The unavoidable bumping into claims (we prefer not to callthem "facts") about the true history of his celebration likely causes some degree of CD, but it has no effect on the habit of celebrating it mindlessly. Many history scholars have even fallen into the Thanksgiving Day trap, joining in the revisionist perspective to avoid discomfort. (Yes, and a number of us Indian activist scholars are often toostubborn to remember theaforementioned wisdom when we consider that the "facts" we accept prevent us from seeing the complexities surrounding the history of this American national holiday and the potential value of the holiday in spite of it.)
     I won't repeat nor cite the "facts" to which I refer in great detail here. If you want to know them, go to Karen Nelte's well citedwebpage at http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/thanksgiving_nelte.html  or read James W. Baker's scholarly text, Thanksgiving: Biography of an American Holiday (University of New Hampshire Press, 2009).* I do ask that you risk a little CD and make your celebration of Thanksgiving THIS year reflect a more healthy event, not only for you and your family and friends at the dinner table, but for American Indians, for American society and for the world at large. What we understand about history matters.  A Thanksgiving that ignores the unpleasant truths about the holiday falsifies our understanding of whom we have become and what we must do to change. For those readers who forgot that they both accept and reject the importance of knowing more about our true history as a nation, recalling such quotes as the following might give you a taste of CD and a chance to practice laughter in preparation of a better resolution for it.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."- George Santayana, 1905
"If you don't know history, it's as if you were born yesterday. If you were born yesterday, then any leader can tell you anything." -Howard Zinn, 2008)
"Scire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum." (Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.)- Cicero, 46 B.C.

   What is the history I am asking us to re-member this Thanksgiving? It is one that leads us to understand that in spite of all our good intentions, the collective "officialness" attributed to this November day sustains an acceptance, at some level of our psyche, of both the genocidal, racial, prejudicial, unjust and overly commercial aspects of ourmodern culture in ways that contribute to a continuation of these. Of course, this is not even mentioning how "Thanksgiving" relates to the centuries of violence and neglect and stereotyping of American Indians before and after the first official celebrations. In any case, here are just a few"facts" to provide enough credibility to kick in the CD this season (if you have read this far.)

*      "The real story might have begun in 1614 when English explorers sailed back to England from Massachusetts Bay with Patuxit and  Wapanoag Indian slaves. In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for theirannual Green Corn Festival (an ancient Thanksgiving celebration). In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside their longhouse.  Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while women and children who huddledinside were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared "A Day Of Thanksgiving" to celebrate the victory. Following this, colonists continuedattacking villages. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered 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 Indians.  During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls." Susan Bates and Manataka American indian Council.  http://www.manataka.org/page269.html See also Baker's book.

*      On October 3, 1789, George Washington declared the last Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the "providence for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness..."

*      From 1846-1860, an influential writer and editor named Sarah Hale dedicated herself to campaigning for the creation of Thanksgiving as an official national holiday. A champion of New England values and their supremacy, her advocacy included having written letters to five U.S. presidents until finally Lincoln issued another proclamation on October 20, 1864, setting the final Thursday in November as a national Thanksgiving Day.

*      In the November, 1897 issue of Harper's Illustrated magazine, two works of art were illustrated in honor of the Thanksgiving issue. One showed armed Indians having killed a colonist who is laying in the snowwith his buckled hat, turkey and musket at his side. The accompanying one shows a sturdy man with his wife in his arms standing at their cabin's doorway with the broken door on the ground and a dead Indian  in the snow. The restauranteur, Howard Johnson, used the latter image on his Thanksgiving Day menus. (See Baker's book, pages 108 if you want to see the images.)

*      On November 26, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill that established the fourth Thursday in November as the national legal holiday of Thanksgiving, continuing the tradition dating all the way back to the Washington proclamation.

*      Only after the tragedy of Wounded Knee and the certainty that Indians west of the Mississippi had been vanquished militarily, did the image of the peaceful Indian guest become "an untroubled and central element of Thanksgiving iconography." See E. Pleck's review of Becker's text in the peer reviewed Journal of Social History (summer, 2011).

Well, I'm done in time to send this off to you before the big day kicks off the Christmas consumerism. Sorry I did not get my Columbus Day holiday letter out last month!:

* See also see the chapter by Eric Hobsbawm by that title in Hobsbawm and Terence  Ranger,  eds.,  The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge:  Cambridge  UniversityPress, 1983),  1-14

To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give ofone's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to have made even one life breathe easier because you have lived-this is to have "succeeded" in life.--(although often attributed to Emerson, the source of this quote is speculative)

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago@UGA.EDU<mailto:smago@UGA.EDU>>
Reply-To: Peter Smagorinsky <smago@UGA.EDU<mailto:smago@UGA.EDU>>
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2011 13:41:39 +0000
Subject: short fall color slideshow

enjoy! p
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