The Pilgrims brought disease, mass murder, theft of land, forced relocation and other injustices. Their arrival culminated in the death of 10 to 30 million native people.
At the “First Thanksgiving”, the Wampanoags provided most of the food, and signed a treaty granting Pilgrims the right to the land at Plymouth, the real reason for the first Thanksgiving. Yet, within 20 years European disease and treachery had decimated the Wampanoags.
At the time, most diseases came from the animals that the Europeans had domesticated. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, one of the great killers of the native people. It was spread through “gifts” of blankets used by infected Europeans.
By some accounts, the death toll reached 90 percent in some Native American Communities.
The National Day of Mourning began in 1970. That year, Frank James, a Wampanoag, was invited to speak at a banquet being held by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival.
In his speech, he wanted to talk about how the European settlers looted the graves of the Wampanoag. How they took their wheat and bean supplies and sold them as slaves.
The organizers wanted him to leave out those facts. Rather than deliver the speech, James and his supporters gathered at Plymouth. There they observed the first National Day of Mourning. Since then, the United American Indians of New England return to Plymouth each Thanksgiving to protest how the holiday has been mythologized.
Listen this Saturday, November the 29th, to my conversation with a Native American Tribal Chief and for more on the history of Thanksgiving. “The Joan Jerkovich Show” broadcasts Saturday from 6-8am CST. For live streaming or to listen via podcast go to JoanJerkovich.com.
Excerpts for this blog were taken from “Thanksgiving: A Native American View” by Jacqueline Keeler and “Thanksgiving: A Day of Celebration or Mourning for Native Americans?” by race relations expert, Nadra Kareem Nittle. Thanks to those two authors for helping us understand why not all Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.
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