PERHAPS one of the most discomfiting things ever is to deal with the American Thanksgiving tradition, embraced in these our shores—perhaps most especially in once small American town Baguio —while listening to an investigative class report about the “myth” of that famous first Thanksgiving in America, between “Pilgrims” and “Indians.”
While the outing of that “myth” is not new, several times in the past years have it thrown out in a Journalism classroom where every thought is thrown out as fact had better be footnoted —and reliably —is still, in a word: discomfiting. Also because greetings of “Happy Thanksgiving” abound at this time of year.
What is this “myth,” one may well ask.
The myth is, more lately and simply put in the words of Smithsonian writer Claire Bugos:
“The myth is that friendly Indians, unidentified by tribe, welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them, and then disappear. They hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity, and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. That’s the story—it’s about Native people conceding to colonialism. It’s bloodless and in many ways an extension of the ideology of Manifest Destiny.”
One may well add that the myth is so imprinted in our minds as a picture of Native Americans sitting with Pilgrims over a table of a bountiful harvest, the former in native dress and the Pilgrims in high and pointy black hats (oops). All these supposedly happening in New England, where the first contact between the former and Europeans supposedly occurred.
However, Bugos writes too of inaccuracies:
“One is that history doesn’t begin for Native people until Europeans arrived. People had been in the Americas for at least 12,000 years and according to some Native traditions, since the beginning of time. And having history start with English is a way of dismissing all that. The second is that the arrival of the Mayflower is some kind of the first-contact episode. It’s not. Wampanoags had a century of contact with Europeans–it was bloody and it involved slave-raiding by Europeans. At least two and maybe more Wampanoags, when the Pilgrims arrived, spoke English, had already been to Europe and back and knew the very organizers of the Pilgrims’ venture.” Wampanoags were the people that the Pilgrims encountered in Wampanoag country, one they then turned into “New England.”
And so now to the same writer’s analysis of the perpetuation of the myth:
“Thanksgiving myth allowed New Englanders to create this idea that bloodless colonialism in their region was the origin of the country, having nothing to do with the Indian Wars and slavery. Americans could feel good about their colonial past without having to confront the really dark characteristics of it.”
To read more, please go to https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thanksgiving-myth-and-what-we-should-be-teaching-kids-180973655/ and read the whole piece by Claire Bugos.
Call me a party pooper, but let’s have some accuracy here. And despite, still give endless thanks for the blessings that abound.