Thanksgiving Day: history’s bitter harvest

Native Indians have mixed views

Merdies Hayes | 11/27/2013, 2:41 p.m.
Native Indians have mixed views

Since Tisquantum had been Christianized during his capture and stay in England, the Pilgrims viewed him as an instrument to spread Puritanism among the Wampanoag people. When the natives rebelled, it is said that the Pilgrims used trickery, treason, torment, warfare and genocide to achieve their new end: a new, exclusive nation existing entirely of White men. In fact, Gov. John Winthorp proclaimed the first Thanksgiving as “a celebration for the safe return of the Puritan men” from what is now called Mystic, Conn., after a successful massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children—known today as the Thanksgiving Massacre.

The Puritans viewed their fight against Native Indians as a holy war against Satan, and everyone who disagreed was labeled a “savage.” This elitist attitude compelled the White settlers to conquer Native Indians and, for succeeding generations, reduce these persons to a mere footnote in history.

Such violent clashes between White men and Native Indians has been a contentious subject throughout America history as regular massacres at the hands of white settlers still resonate on the many Indian reservations throughout the land.

Even the terms “American Indian” and “Native American” are rejected by a new generation who state that Native Indians resided in the New World long before it was called America, therefore it is incorrect to state that the ancestors of today’s native persons were, indeed, Americans.

Hostile feelings between the two parties erupted almost immediately after the first Thanksgiving meal; the Pilgrims reneged on their agreement with the Native Indians because the indigenous people wanted to exchange their harvest for beads and metals and other materials the Europeans owned. Initially expressing willingness, when they accepted the harvest, the White men, in the end, did not follow through on their word.

The Wampanoag and Europeans signed a treaty that day (Thanksgiving) granting the Pilgrims the right to the land at Plymouth, the real reason for the celebration.

Within 20 years after signing the treaty, the Wampanoag had been decimated by disease. Most illnesses came from animals that Europeans had domesticated, and, since the indigenous people had never been exposed to foreign maladies, they quickly contracted deadly illnesses because they had no immunity from them. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, one of the great killers of Native Indians, spread through gifts of blankets used by infected Europeans. By 1623, Mather the Elder, a Pilgrim leader, was giving thanks to God for the destroying the heathen savages to make way “for better growth,” meaning more prosperity for White men. Among the Native Indians descended from the Wampanoag are: the Chappaquiddick, the Nantuckeket, the Aquinnah and the Mashpee.

Thanksgiving was generally not celebrated en mass for more than 100 years after Gov. Winthorp of Massachusetts Bay Colony observed the day. In November 1777, the Continental Congress made the first national proclamation of Thanksgiving Day. Twelve years later, George Washington proclaimed Nov. 26 as a day of national thanksgiving and prayer. Other governors, from New York to Georgia, celebrated their own day. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln became the first president since James Madison to declare a national day of Thanksgiving.