Before this year’s national
celebration of Thanksgiving, the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts,
just 43 miles southwest from Cambridge, where I reside, will
celebrate its 400th Thanksgiving anniversary this coming weekend. The
nationally televised extravaganza will venerate the arrival of
European Pilgrims to America in 1620. Packaged in the promotion will
be the story of these early Pilgrims’ heroic voyage on the
Mayflower, and the beginning of American democracy that Quincy native
President John Quincy Adams depicted as “the earliest example
of civil government established by the act of the people to be
governed.” Also, the one-year celebration after their arrival
in 1620 symbolized a Thanksgiving depicting a cooperative and cordial
relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
Thanksgiving’s 400th anniversary arrives amid a continued COVID
pandemic that has ravaged marginalized communities of color, as a
county reckons with its past by re-examining its roots of persistent
inequities. For example, this year, Massachusetts celebrated
Indigenous Peoples Day in lieu of Columbus Day. In 2020, the NFL team
formerly called the “Washington Redskins” is now the
Washington Football Team. And in this supposedly more “woke”
moment, television images of whites doing “war whoops”
and “tomahawk chops” coming across our screen are now
for Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a cause of celebration but
rather a National Day of Mourning. Why would Native Americans
celebrate the people who tried to destroy us?
1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Coles Hill in
Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on this U.S.
holiday. And for the Wampanoag nation of New England, whose name
means “people of the dawn,” this national holiday is a
reminder of the real significance of the first Thanksgiving in 1621
as a symbol of persecution of Native Americans and their long history
of bloodshed with European settlers.
the first group of settlers was refugees, to whom America now closes
her doors. The Pilgrims were seeking a better life. However, the
Pilgrims, who sought refuge here in America from religious
persecution in their homeland, were correct in their dogged pursuit
of religious liberty. Regrettably, the Pilgrims’ fervor for
religious liberty was devoid of an ethic of accountability, and their
actions did not set up the conditions requisite for moral liability
and legal justice. Instead, the actions of the Pilgrims brought about
the genocide of a people, a historical amnesia of the event, and an
annual national celebration of Thanksgiving for their arrival. In
other words, their actual practice of religious liberty came at the
expense of the humanity and the civil rights of Native Americans.
1990, President George H.W. Bush designated November as “National
American Indian Heritage Month” to celebrate the history, art,
and traditions of Native American people. And in this nation’s
reckoning moment, celebrating the arrival of Pilgrims hints to its
continued revisionist history. And it must cease!
we get into the holiday spirit, let us remember the whole story of
the arrival of the Pilgrims.
is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest
of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to
experience,” reads the text of the plaque on Coles Hill that
overlooks Plymouth Rock, the mythic symbol of where the Pilgrims
United American Indians of New England (UAINE), a Native-led
organization of Native people, supports Indigenous struggles in New
England and throughout the Americas. Also, UAINE supports the
struggles of communities of color, LGBTQ communities, and, yes, all
refugees, because it understands the interconnections of struggles.
pilgrims would have died during the harsh winter had it not been for
the open arms of the Native Americans,” Taylor Bell wrote in
“The Hypocrisy Of Refusing Refugees at Thanksgiving.”
for the record, the misrepresentations about what was served at the
first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621 needs to be corrected, too.
For example, there is no evidence that turkey was offered, and pie
could not have been, because there was no flour or butter available
for the crust in those days. Also,
The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor in 1620, after first
stopping near today’s Provincetown, now known as an LGBTQ
the spirit of our connected struggles for life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness, this Thanksgiving, we should not solely focus
on the story of Plymouth Rock. Instead, as Americans, we should focus
on creating this nation as a solid rock that rests on a multicultural
and democratic foundation.
in so doing, it helps us remember and respect the struggles that not
only this nation’s Pilgrim foremothers and forefathers endured.
It also enables us to recognize and respect the present-day struggle
refugees and other marginalized groups face, especially the ongoing
struggle our Native American brothers and sisters face every day,
particularly on Thanksgiving Day.