The Meaning Of Thanksgiving
By Fathouse Productions
The U.S. holiday Thanksgiving comes from the hospitality of the Wampanoag nation of Massachusetts, which helped European colonists avoid starvation through several brutal winters in the early 1600s. One day they came together and had a huge meal to celebrate the colonists’ successful 1621 harvest. Just 55 years later, most Wampanoag (and Narragansett, Pocumtuc and Nipmuk) had been murdered or sold into Caribbean slavery during King Philip’s War in 1675-6.
In 2016, the colonial administration of North Dakota celebrated Thanksgiving week by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at mostly indigenous protesters, injuring over 160. The protesters are trying to block the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline on land deeded to Plains Indian tribes by the U.S. government in an 1851 treaty. They fear the pipeline could contaminate Dakota nation reservation water.
The cops also used water cannons on protesters at night as temperatures dropped below freezing, causing real fear of hypothermia and death. This looked familiar from Guatemala, where indigenous activism for self-determination and against “development” that may harm their communities is regularly ignored, criminalized, or brutalized.
Thanksgiving day itself commemorated in part by a special football game. The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys played the Washington Redskins. Yes, that’s the actual name, and it helps clarify the intellectual roots of racism in the U.S. and its relationship to Trump?s victory.
Trump’s slogan was “Make America Great Again,” and one of the major, though unspoken, intellectual fault lines in U.S. society is the question of what made the U.S. rich and powerful (“great”) to begin with.
We’re taught that the U.S. became great because its (European, Christian) ideals of democratic and economic freedoms created the first modern democracy and inspired generations of immigrants to work hard and build a great economy.
In reality, U.S. wealth and greatness had more to do with conquering so much land, harvesting its resources, and forcing millions of slaves to work it to provide the cotton that fueled the U.S. industrial and banking revolutions.
But you can’t expect a country that calls its capital’s team the “Redskins” to understand this. The name “Redskins” shows how ignorant we are of the hundreds of specific tribes and nations that were brutalized to make the US “great.” Better not name the team after a specific nation, because once you start naming nations, you might eventually look up the wars waged against each to get them out of the way. If you call them all Redskins, it’s easier to believe it was disease that swept them aside instead of centuries of ethnic cleansing.
In Guatemala, half the country speaks an indigenous language. U.S. tourists are therefore surrounded by proof that the disease myth is false, a way for their society to avoid recognizing that their past and present wealth is not based on moral superiority or a superior form of government, but rather centuries of bloody warfare, ethnic cleansing, and exploitation.
My gringo culture struggles to admit this, though, because it would mean we’re not morally superior and therefore not entitled to hoard so much wealth from the rest of humanity, much less risk everyone’s future by pumping fossil fuels from conquered land for short-term profit. Indeed, U.S. citizens can’t even share enough with each other for a decent healthcare system. History explains why. So do the Redskins.