Thanksgiving Day: The Dark and Bloody History Behind the Third Thursday of November Celebration

As tradition dictates, million families in the United States will meet this third Thursday in November for have dinner and give thanks to life for all the good (and perhaps also the bad) they received during the year. This will be the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic that the celebration “returns” to normal, because many people are already vaccinated, although on alert for the imminent cfourth wave of infections.

This commemoration is cause for rejoicing, reflection and even celebration in some cities, where there is usually spectacular parades to remember when the English ancestors who arrived in the country of the stars and stripes had good harvests thanks to the help of the natives of what we know today as Massachusetts.

Macy’s 2021 Thanksgiving Day Parade in NY. Photo: AP

The origin of Thanksgiving

Throughout time, many have dared to affirm that written history is nothing more than the version of the victors, and in this case, it is no exception. What for most American families is a holiday, for the few descendants of the Wampanoag tribe, Thanksgiving is your National Day of Mourning.

In recent months, the theme of the conquered at the hands of Europeans more than five centuries ago has been the subject of controversial discussions in the American continent, since it seeks to clean the memory of fallen indigenous peoples or submitted during the wrong call “discovery of America”.

In the case of the United States, it is the Wampanoag who continue to resist ammore than 400 years since the arrival of the English pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, a ship that landed on the coast of Plymouth.

This painting by Francis Bacon portrays what the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth might have been like. Photo: Special

The arrival of the pilgrims to Plymouth

The Wampanoag, a native Plymouth tribe, were the first to see the pilgrims arriving on their land in 1621. A Washington Post report relates that by then were distributed in some 69 villages and each had its leader or sachem and a healer. They lived in abundance because their lands lent themselves to Corn sowing and they had the possibility of fishing various species in the rivers and the coasts.

While they had already engaged business relationships with some explorers from a century ago, it was not until the arrival of the pilgrims that the end of their tribe began. In 1614, a leader of the Wampanoag was taken along with 20 other men as slaves to Spain and when he returned to his lands he only found death and desolation: his brothers had been practically exterminated by a mysterious disease, which historians consider to be smallpox or yellow fever.

Six years later, the Mayflower arrived, a boat that brought entire English families with it. The natives watched over them for months, but by the time winter came, many of the foreigners died as a result of the extreme temperatures. The first “contact” between the two sides of history did not occur until the spring of 1621.

This was the “first” Thanksgiving Day

After that first contact of the Wampanoag with the pilgrims, the original people closely watched foreigners, but at the same time they taught them to plant beans, squash, and corn as well as create ferilizer with fish remains. By the time the autumn of 1621 came, the english had good harvests and the they celebrated with a party, which became what we know today as the Thanksgiving Day.

But to the party the Wampanoag were not invited, and that’s something that still stings to this day. Only when the English detonated weapons in their revelry and caught the attention of the locals, did they deign to treat them to a little of what they were consuming. In that party there was everything, grains, deer, shellfish and birds to distribute in piles.

This, along with the popular belief that Native Americans wore Apache-style feathers 400 years ago, is not true, says writer David J. Silverman in his book This Land Is Their Land, published in 2020. Plymouth Native People ( today Massachusetts) were totally different from how history portrays them, at most they wore a mohawk (Mohican) made with porcupine hair, says the author.

This version of the first Thanksgiving, and the stereotype that Native American descendants still carry, is something their descendants still struggle with.

Painting about how it could have been the “first” Thanksgiving Day “in 1621. Photo: Pilgrim Hall Museum

The beginning of the end for the Wampanoag

Descendants of the Wampanoag related to the WP that Thanksgiving Day portrays an idea that their ancestors welcomed the pilgrims with open arms and that they brought them a better life expectancy. But it is not true. Mother Bear, a woman who seeks to rescue her native roots, said that in 1789 a law was made official in which ecause of death teaching a Wampanoag Indian to write or read.

In addition to this, the English did everything to deprive them of their lands and lthey forced you to adopt Christianity as a religion: “We had a pray or die policy, if you didn’t convert, you had to flee or die,” the woman explained. Then came the worst, because the colonizing pilgrims they sent the children to boarding schools to take away their “Indian customs”, such as long hair or their mother tongue.

“Welcoming and befriending the pilgrims was the Wampanoag’s worst mistake,” said activist Frank James. after colonization very few villages remained, to the extent that more than three centuries later, they could not be recognized as an original tribe by the United States government.

It was not until 2007 that they were given federal recognition as a tribe, more than three decades after they had applied to establish their National Day of Mourning. Now, 400 years after the pilgrims’ betrayal, the Wampanoag continue to fight to regain the lands that belonged to their ancestors and they are hopeful. Deb haaland, the first Home Secretary to be a Native American.

Plaque in Plymouth that remembers that the pilgrims landed there. Photo: Google

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