Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A different perspective of Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899) depicts some common misconceptions taught in U.S. schools.
HISTORY should be the truth but too often it has been twisted to the advantage of whoever is telling it - to maintain status, to keep power, to stay on top.

Throughout school, we're taught the familiar story of Thanksgiving from the point of view of the Pilgrims, or rather the Eurocentric version, in which the Wampanoag, the People of the First Light, and the Plymouth Rock settlers supposedly feasted together to give thanks for the bounty provided by the land.

The Wampanoag had lived in the Massachusetts area for 12,000 years by the time the European immigrants came. By following the DNA trail and by archaeological evidence, it has been shown that the First Americans originated in Asia, crossing over to North America via a bridge of ice during one of the earth's ice ages.
Nearly every part of the modern Thanksgiving myth that we celebrate today traces its roots to the 19th century, when American author Sarah Josepha Hale lobbied President Abraham Lincoln to designate it as a national holiday. The story is a bit more complicated, but suffice it to say, the feast that became Thanksgiving, was of a more political nature than having your neighbors over for dinner.

While most Americans gather around a food-laden table, the Wampanoag will keep their museum open to welcome visitors. "We really don't celebrate it." said John Brown, material culture specialist at the Plimoth Plantation. "We use (the day_ to remember the ones we lost in the past."

Half a continent away, another band of First Americans are bracing themselves as winter descends on Standing Rock. Since this summer, people there have been protesting the 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, which would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to other pipelines in Illinois.

The Standing Rock Sioux oppose the pipeline because they say it threatens drinking water on their nearby reservation and cultural sites. Pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners has said no sites have been disturbed and that the $3.8 billion pipeline will be safe.

The protectors are being joined by sympathizers including college students and veterans. Up to 1200 people are staying in the demonstrators' makeshift village. At times, the private security guards and law enforcement have been a little heavy handed towards the "protectors," using fire hoses in subfreezing weather, rubber bullets and batons. 

Alli Joseph wrote in Salon: "If you grew up learning in school about the Pilgrims and the Indians being good, happy friends and have not yet read a retelling like Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” you might not realize that for American Indians, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the genocide of millions of our people, the quashing of our culture and traditions and the stealing of our virgin lands."

Enjoy this Thanksgiving. Anytime families get together and connections are renewed and strengthened - that's a tradition worth keeping, but the t story perpetuates the fairytale of harmony between the indigenous people and the interlopers from Europe. It's time we let that myth die ... because we know the rest of the story.

First Americans have been protesting the oil pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota since the spring.