American ‘Values’ and Thanksgiving

ToothpasteOutOfTheTubeBy Astra Navigo

The year was 1620. A group of people (latecomers; really) who didn’t like the notion of the Church of England telling them how to worship their Imaginary Friend pooled their resources, bought a license from the Crown to start a colony, rented a ship, and headed west.

When they got here, they immediately began applying their ‘values’ to the locals – the way they saw it, the land was ‘wild’, and hence open for the taking – the people living here were ‘savages’, and not ‘Christian’ – with those three strikes against them (they hadn’t ‘improved’ the land; they didn’t have a recognizable political structure and didn’t worship the same Imaginary Friend) – they were considered little more than bands of wandering hellions with no rights at all.

The ‘Pilgrims’ (I put that in quotes; they never referred to themselves by this term – they used the terms ‘Separatist’ and ‘Puritan’) simply set up shop and began platting farms, cutting trees, and acting as if they owned the place. To their minds, they did. ‘God’ was on their side, you see.

(A friend of mine is a tribal leader for one of the Northwest tribes. She once told me, “If my people had been there, they wouldn’t have gotten off the boat. Ears and noses would have made fine trophies.”)

While there were colonies up and down the eastern seaboard at this time, these folks were ‘special’ – just ask ’em. They managed to create their own mythology – by example, while no launch would have survived fetching up on a rock (their own records state that they first landed the Mayflower’s launch on ‘dry lande’), they rewrote their own history in this first-of-many-cases; ‘Plimoth rock’ became their first landfall, echoing the book of Matthew: “…thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church….”

While the ‘official’ histories are bogus, the reality of the situation is that their first foray to the interior of this new land didn’t net them any friends – in fact, they found an iron kettle (the result of earlier trading; this wasn’t the Wampanoag’s first encounter with Englishmen) full of corn; they took this, along with several ‘sundrie and prettie things’ from a child’s grave.

The Puritans set about poisoning the locals with the twin scourges of the day – smallpox and Christianity – ‘converting’ native peoples, ‘relocating’ them into ‘praying towns’, and teaching them of the tender ministrations of the Lord and the effects of the overconsumption of alcohol.

We’re asked to believe that a fellow named Squanto appeared out of nowhere to organize a feast for these people. The truth is that several of the natives still traded with the Puritans as they had all along – spontaneity having nothing to do with it – because they had items which made life easier – ‘trade muskets’, for example (shoddy firearms which exploded with some regularity).

In truth, Squanto (Tisquantum) had been sent by Massasoit (chief sachem of the Wampanoag) to keep an eye on the Puritans and determine their intentions. Tisquantum rapidly learned that he could obtain trade goods for giving the Puritans the same sort of information about Massasoit – becoming, if you will, the first recorded double-agent in American history. Far from organizing the first ‘Thanksgiving’ (Tisquantum was later killed by Massasoit for trying to stir up trouble among the Puritans against the Wampanoag) Tisquantum added to the problem – proof that, if anything, the native peoples were far too lenient and far too trusting for far too long.

The first harvest-feast probably occurred around the fall of 1621 – there are no clear records; save for an oral-history later committed to paper with many inaccuracies. The natives were attracted by the gunfire of hunting colonists; they originally showed up as a band of men (no women and children were present at this first harvest-feast); when they saw that a feast was being prepared, they left, returning with some deer and wild turkeys – in fact, it’s more than likely that the natives provided most of the food for this now-historic event.

Far from a ‘celebration of friendship’, this event was a cautious affair; likely there was more than a bit of scheming which went on thanks to the efforts of Everyone’s Buddy, Tisquantum.

By this time, the toothpaste was truly out of the tube, metaphorically speaking, and there was no chance to put it back – the Puritans had established their ‘holy kingdom’ on the backs of people who, while cautious, had been welcoming – and had been repaid in the ‘coin’ of the era.

_____________________________

(By the 1670’s the native people’s legendary tolerance and patience had seen its end – corn-stealing and grave-robbing had progressed to wholesale land-theft, rape, pillage, and other depredations – with ‘Jesus’ on top of it all, grinning like an idiot.

A Wampanoag chief named Metacom (a man the Puritans called ‘King Philip’) raised an army among his own tribe and the Narragansett, with support from several minor tribes in the region, and went to war against the ‘Pilgrims’.

A year later, Metacom was dead, along with half of his effective fighting force.

The Puritans responded to this event with some joy. The fight had gone out of the native coalition of the willing.

Shortly afterward (likely in late September), the Puritans declared a ‘day of Thanksgiving’ for the death of Metacom and the victory of the forces of light over the forces of heathen darkness — the first recorded, official ‘Thanksgiving’.)

Happy Thanksgiving, later this week, all.

Now, at least you know what you’re celebrating.

About astranavigo

Astra is one of the clever monkeys occupying space on the Third Planet From The Sun. While it was an early wish of Astra's to be one of the first to go to Proxima Centauri, he knows this is not to be; instead, you can find him here (some of the time) using simple tools to create communication. Holding up a mirror and saying 'Looky! Mistofer Emperor! Y'ain't wearin' no clothes!" is but one of the services he provides here. Others are subverting prevailing wisdom, peeing in people's Cheerios, trashing on their Imaginary Friends (he does this a lot,) and shifting paradigms without benefit of a clutch. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he hopes he'll never have to learn the true meaning of some of his dystopian fiction.

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7 Comments on “American ‘Values’ and Thanksgiving”

  1. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, instead of simply gorging themselves on a feast that supposedly represents the first Thanksgiving dinner (and probably most our modern tastes would reject perhaps half the things they ate that day) people would take the time to consider the impact the European invasion had on the lives of the American Native people.

    Not every history is a negative one. There have been some successful cultural blending, although unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. The pioneer community i was raised in grew up next to an Indian village. The cross-cultural children made it an exercise to list what the Native and the pioneer cultures gave each other to improve their life styles. They listed, for the Native gifts, their knowledge of the terrain and accompanying fishing, hunting and survival skills, sun glasses against the blinding snow, dog sleds and superior cold weather clothing. From the pioneers, they received technology; the rifle, axe, hammer and saw, and the snow machine so prevalent in rural culture today. They learned about sewing machines and kitchen stoves. They learned to bake fried bread; a delicacy so popular, it became an integrated part of Native foods. This exercise has done much in serving as a bridge between the two cultures. By acknowledging each others contributions, we realize more deeply our equality.

    We can’t change the wrongs of the past, but we can change our attitudes about them. We can quit feeling justified in contributing to injustice. We could strive to be more culturally integrated, more understanding. We could acknowledge equality and that everyone has something special, something worthwhile, to share.

  2. I have long eschewed Thanksgiving the holiday, not because I’m not thankful for so many things but in part because of the lies behind it which you so succinctly pointed out. Also the enforced family time which ends up in so many homes to be an ugly thing seems counter-productive.
    I do agree with Karla, there are some success stories, but they are few and far between. Unfourtunately our forefathers had little thought for those who may hold different beliefs and equally unfourtunate we are witnessing a return in full force to this mindset.
    I am for family, for supportive coming together for celebrating one another but if we need a day of enforced engorgement followed by extreme consumerism, there is something painfully wrong with us.

  3. As an historian, I know all too well that there are successful stories regarding the blending of cultures.

    Unfortunately, these are, indeed, too far and few-between to be of cultural worth – in fact, they are significant by their rarity.

    I’ve often pointed out the ugly truth of American Thanksgiving; in fact, at age 13 I told my parents that I really didn’t want to ‘do Christmas’ any more, because it had nothing to do with anything of a spiritual nature, but had rather become a Celebration of Greed.

    The American Celebration of Greed and Gluttony (commencing today, and ending on December 25th) is a month-long orgy of the very worst in American society – so much so that our very economy depends on it.

    Hate is a strong word – I don’t like being responsible for its proper use, so I use it sparingly – but I’ll say it plain: I hate this time of year.

    Seemingly though, we do ‘need’ this day — and all the days between now and then, culminating with finding out how much ‘swag’ we’ve scored from friends, family, and relatives. We need to prove how much we have.

    We need to prove how much we make – or can borrow.

    We need this time of year as much as a cheater needs his mistress — someone to prove to him that he’s young and beautiful again, even when he’s not.

    All it takes is money.

    Cheers!

    -Will (“Astra”)

  4. Wow , it’s Thanksgiving Day! I’m enjoying my extra day off, and I am planning to doing something fun that will probably involve a car trip and seeing something new in Fabens I haven’t seen yet.
    You write something new at Thanksgiving?

  5. I knew that the “official” history was a lie (but then again, what is history but an agreed-upon fiction?), but even if it was not I still don’t much care for this holiday – all it means for me is that my workplace is turned into a living hell and I get a little bit of time off as a reward for enduring it. So I will say right now what I’ve been meaning to express for a long time: fuck this holiday – and fuck that overly-glorified day of commercialism that comes about a month afterwards.

  6. Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts.

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