Un-Thanksgiving Day, the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz Island, is taking place even as I write. Several Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) activists are participating this year–they’re here in CA to spread the word about protecting sacred Mauna Kea, and more!
Today, November 28th is also La Ku’oko’a –Hawaiian Independence Day.
Each observance counteracts destructive, colonial myths that cover up uncomfortable historical facts, allowing (mostly) white people and power structures to “rest easy” with continued persecution, exploitation, and bodily harm of (1) the native peoples of Turtle Island (aka North American continent); and (2) the native peoples of the Hawaiian archipelago, who happened to have had an internationally recognized constitutional monarchy–the Hawaiian Kingdom–that was taken by the United States through violence and deception.
The True Story of Thanksgiving
I learned this history several years ago, when I first saw the Susan Bates article below, published on the Manataka American Indian Council website.
As a settler-colonist descendent of hundreds of New England colonizers, including Richard and Elizabeth Warren of the Mayflower, I have gone from deeply uncomfortable to deeply adverse to “celebrating” the American Thanksgiving, once I learned the truth. While my kids still lived at home, we continued to “celebrate” with a family meal, attempting (probably unsuccessfully) to emphasize personal thanks “for all we had” and downplay the shitty facts of our heritage. Now I wish we’d just chucked the whole thing as soon as we began to hear the truth about the holiday–it would have been more honest–but our family was already falling apart. A festive family meal with the children was one of our last pretenses of unity and “normalcy,” along with Christmas.
But even this futile attempt to justify our observance of Thanksgiving didn’t change the fact that the descendents of Richard and Elizabeth Warren, and possibly other ancestors of mine, were Plymouth residents and must have been in some way complicit in the 1637 massacre of the Wampanoag village (mentioned in the articles below). Richard Warren himself didn’t last long in the “new world”–he died in 1628. His first son, Nathaniel, was only twelve in 1637. I would hope that boys that young were not enlisted to help slaughter human beings, but who knows? And what may he have done in later years? Also, Richard Warren’s widow, Elizabeth, died in her 90’s. We often overlook the role of settler-colonial women in upholding and inciting harsh measures against indigenous people (and slaves)–so one of my creepy questions is, who was she and what did she advocate?
(FYI–My ex-husband’s family also has a long colonial settler history, though further south, in Kentucky and elsewhere.)
And so I have to recognize that like every other white person in this country, my family and I benefit from privileges which began with “manifest destiny” and genocide and which continue with legal, political, economic, and other systems and policies designed to destroy and disadvantage native people, and other people of color, in every possible way.
Here are several links to information about the true history of Thanksgiving.
Bates, Susan. The Real Story of Thanksgiving, Manataka American Indian Council website. You can also find two more articles on this page.
Blow, Charles M. The Horrible History of Thanksgiving, New York Times, Nov. 27, 2019.
Bugos, Claire. The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue, Smithsonian Magazine, Nov. 26, 2019. This is an interview with David J. Silverman, author of This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving (published Nov. 2019).
Rikert, Levi. Leonard Peltier’s 2019 Thanksgiving Message: “Walking on Stolen Land.” Native News Online. Nov. 23, 2019.
The True History of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the U.S. Occupation
This is a complicated matter, lasting over a century. For one of the best accounts, go to the Political History page of the Hawaiian Kingdom website.
Even here I have a slight personal connection as a junior settler-colonist. My father (now deceased), a PanAm pilot, moved my mother, brother, and me to Honolulu shortly after the 1959 fraudulent “statehood” vote. He probably sensed some kind of opportunity to exploit, but my father and mother were not happy together. They soon separated, bound for divorce. So we flew back to San Diego, leaving behind my father and that rather bleak cinderblock apartment on Lipe’epe’e Street in Waikiki.
Today a Time of Reflection
While native activists from Oceania and Turtle Island meet and make common cause–which is a joyous and wonderful thing–we settler colonists have our own work to do. It’s difficult to disengage from complicity, from the horrifying tendrils which link our lives to the larger abhorent structures destroying the entire planet now–not just “reservations” and “ghettos” and “houseless encampments” where those “other” people live (often with inadequate or polluted water, air, and soil).
So the first thing we settler colonists need to do is know the truth, understand the implications, and do whatever we can to disengage from complicity. Perhaps then we might be suitably prepared to assist in common cause with native peoples and work together to save this planet we all share.