Thanksgiving celebrations need to remember historical origins of the holiday

We tend to have selective memories. This may explain why we frequently overlook the injustices faced by American Indians and the role they played in the historic charade known as Thanksgiving.

The idea of Thanksgiving is to celebrate the collaboration of the Pilgrims and the neighboring Wampanoag nation, led by Chief Massasoit, who famously gave aid and supplies to the Pilgrims during their first winter at Plymouth Colony. As Americans, we would like to think Thanksgiving was symbolic of peace and mutual understanding between two different cultures.

In reality, Thanksgiving is the celebration of settler colonialism in America. Settler colonialism, as opposed to colonialism, is the destructive practice in which a foreign entity colonizes the lands of an indigenous people and claims those lands for themselves while working toward making the indigenous people disappear. In contrast, the practice of colonialism by the British toward the people of India, while economically exploitative, at least left the land to the indigenous peoples. In the case of the Pilgrims, settler colonialism dispossessed the indigenous American Indians of their land and undermined their sovereignty.

When Massasoit eventually decided to welcome the Pilgrims and aid their cause, I am sure it was not without debate among the Wampanoag. There were probably those in the tribe who would have preferred to wipe the Pilgrims out while they were weak and suffering, but Massasoit may have seen the arrival of the Pilgrims as a sign of the times. Perhaps Massasoit strategically chose to help the Pilgrims by extending an olive branch to gain favor with King James in the hope of creating a mutually beneficial alliance. But despite his skillful attempts at diplomacy, his charitable efforts were soon forgotten by the Pilgrims and other colonists during their future attempts to expand their colonies into American Indian territories.

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, his son, Metacomet, who was known by the English as “King Philip,” took a more direct approach in the quickly disintegrating relations between the indigenous American Indians and the Pilgrims. As the Pilgrims continued to constrain the sovereignty of the American Indians, King Philip led a revolt that eventually led to his beheading by the children of the people his father had chosen to save from starvation. Such is the inconvenience of a selective memory that has led to history trying to convince us that Thanksgiving was a collaborative gathering of equals.

During halftime of the Ute football game on Saturday, there was a ceremony celebrating the American Indian history here in Utah with a cultural dance performance by the Ute Tribe. The crowd cheered mightily during the dance. Here’s hoping that all the goodwill and seemingly sincere reception to the Ute tribe won’t be forgotten as quickly as Massasoit’s charitable efforts to the Pilgrims many centuries ago. So with that in mind, have a Happy Thanksgiving, and try to remember its true meaning when passing the gravy.

[email protected]