Reminding US Americans, as I do every year, that Thanksgiving is an atrocity in-itself, a celebration of a series of atrocities committed by European colonialists and settlers against the Native Peoples of the Americas, is essential. Opposition arises, sometimes from the strangest places: echoing the right-wing notion of tradition, family and continuity, some liberals and leftists say that Thanksgiving is special time, a secular holiday, and a time for family and togetherness during the cold, dark months of the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. To take from Elton John, Thanksgiving is their ‘candle in the wind,’ against grey skies and dropping temperatures. A ‘secular’ event, uniformly acceptable to all: multi-religious families can all get together and have a Turkey-happy time.
Stories are important, as Donna Haraway following Ursula Le Guin noted in her recent lecture “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthuluscene: Staying With the Trouble,” and the wilful negation of one’s ability to think is central to what she calls ‘Eichmann Syndrome.’ Haraway notes that we are all potentially little ‘Eichmanns;’ and the syndrome itself is a refusal to acknowledge the suffering the Others. Whilst gorging on Turkey-flesh, ending up in a tryptophan-induced hypnogogic state, the US American subject becomes, through the yearly ritual of Thanksgiving, an already-always forgetful-forgetting subject.
Unlike Christopher Columbus day, which is clearly odious, Thanksgiving represents a celebration of an series of genocidal events, under an innocuous signifier “thanksgiving.” Not only does Thanksgiving complete ‘Manifest Destiny’s’ post-genocidal mental erasure and American historical amnesia, the holiday actually sanitizes itself. Thanksgiving literally white-washes genocide, and then goes to the ‘word laundromat’ afterwords, taking on a whole new series of meanings, completely killing the reality of the genocide it celebrates. Laundering symbols is profitable, mentally, emotionally and often economically, that is, if you’re not a Native American.
Reality is far more stark for Native Americans, Forbes reports,
“Chief Justice John Marshall set Native Americans on the path to poverty in 1831 when he characterized the relationship between Indians and the government as “resembling that of a ward to his guardian.” With these words, Marshall established the federal trust doctrine, which assigns the government as the trustee of Indian affairs. That trusteeship continues today, but it has not served Indians well.
Underlying this doctrine is the notion that tribes are not capable of owning or managing their lands. The government is the legal owner of all land and assets in Indian Country and is required to manage them for the benefit of Indians.
Because Indians do not generally own their land or homes on reservations, they cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country. Even tribes with valuable natural resources remain locked in poverty. Their resources amount to “dead capital”—unable to generate growth for tribal communities.”
Running Strong for American Indian Youth, reports,
“Many American Indian communities are impoverished, with some tribes reporting unemployment as high as 85%. Existing jobs are found mainly within the tribal government, Bureau of Indian Affairs, state social services, the school systems, and the Indian Health Service (IHS) Hospital. Additionally, years of failed government policies have left reservation economies with limited economic opportunity. The government placed reservations in areas away from fertile land, population centers, water supplies and other vital resources, compounding economic challenges with geographic isolation.”
Centuries of genocide, forced displacement (see: Trail of Tears), legalized discrimination, US government harassment and State-terrorism, including holding American Indian Movement leaders as political prisoners, Native American people must witness, year after year, the ‘secular’ and ‘multicultural’ celebration of a white-washed history. Thanksgiving sells the notion that Pilgrims landed at the ‘New World,’ needed help, the ‘Indians’ helped them, and they all sat down for some potluck. Rainbows abounded in this misty land of unreality, and unicorns flew over the Atlantic sky, etc.
Richard Schfimmin, writing in the Huffington Post, notes,
“The notion that the first Thanksgiving was some kind of cross-cultural love-fest, as it has been portrayed, is also disputed by historians, who say that the settlers and the Indians were brought together less by genuine friendship than by the extremity of their mutual need. The two struggling communities were never more than wary allies against other tribes.
The colonists were contemptuous of the Indians, who they regarded as uncivilized and satanic heathens, and the fragile early peace between Native Americans and the early settlers would soon unravel in a horrific manner in what is now Mystic Connecticut, where the Pequot tribe was celebrating their own Thanksgiving, the green corn festival. In the predawn hours, settlers— not the Pilgrims, but a band of Puritans— descended on their village and shot, clubbed and burned alive over 700 native men, woman and children.
This slaughter, according to Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was the real origin of Thanksgiving— so proclaimed in 1637 by Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop in gratitude for God’s destruction of the defenseless Pequot village. Thereafter massacres of the Indians were routinely followed by “days of thanksgiving.”
I shouldn’t have to remind US Americans that they are celebrating John Winthrop’s fanatical (albeit he was certainly not alone in ‘giving thanks’) genocidal hatred for the colonists’ abject figure of ‘the Indian,’ but it seems I do, and I will continue to do it every-year.
Put down the d(r)um(b)stick.