Thursday, November 26, 2009

Myths and Mourning Thanksgiving

Here lies the harbor of the first landing of the Mayflower. Pilgrim monument stands as the tallest granite structure in this country to commemorate those Mayflower settlers that first came to this land.  While in this sheltered harbor of Provincetown, a child was born aboard the ship. Perhaps at the same moment a few children were birthed by indigenous women, more comfortably situated in their warm wigwams not far from this tip of Cape Cod. As with much of recorded history, "facts" and stories are misleading and especially in the portrayal of the indigenous peoples that had populated this land for 10,000 years or so. The first Thanksgiving is only one of the many myths told to children through history books and performances, in regards to our ancestors coming to this "New World."

Most children were never told of the thousands of Native Americans called Wampanoags that inhabited Cape Cod and inland through the southeastern parts of Massachusetts, when the "first settlers" set anchor in Provincetown and soon after in another harbor later named Plymouth. This map shows not only the Wampanoags location but other tribes as well within an area later named New England but to the native peoples it was called Dawnland or 'Land of the First Light'. I am not certain of the accuracy of this map but it shows a land heavily populated. These gentle wise peoples depicted as "savages" by settlers and history books, lived simple, perhaps difficult but rich lives within the rhythms of nature. In the spring and summer months the Wampanoags would set up their villages near the ocean and harvest its many bounties including oysters, clams, lobsters, eels and a variety of fish and fowl. They would swim and bathe in the oceans, rivers and ponds, make large clambakes that could feed the entire village and had many celebrations around their fruitful harvests. Nothing was wasted. Their clothing and shoes were created from the skin of animals they killed for food. They made jewelry from the shells of quahog clams and feathers from birds. In early spring before leaving their inland winter sites, they had planted corn, beans and squash. As cold winds reclaimed their coastal paradise, they retreated from the harshness of winter by the open ocean to their more protected interior landscape and fall harvests, along with age old rituals of feasting and preparing for the severity of the months to come.

Wampanoag children were raised and taught by their elders how to live and survive through an understanding of nature's cycles and gifts. A very spiritual peoples . . .  they also nurtured within the hearts and minds of their children a deep sense of reverence towards nature. These aspects and so much more are left out of the pictures painted about some of our ancestors' arrival in this world, that was already home to many people. Though the structure of their villages were not meant to be as permanent as the clapboard cape houses that are now clustered and dotted along the shore, they had a governing body and treaties with other tribes regarding issues of territories and respect for each tribes rights. These pacts were also drawn up by the leading Elders to encourage peace between all the nations. Though like all of mankind they did not live always in peace. Without the help of these very native peoples the 'Pilgrims' would not have survived. The separatist settlers had left England to flee religious persecution and then, when they were secure in their new environment, in large part due to the help of the Wampanoags, they attempted and succeeded in many cases, to impose their religion onto the Native Americans, insisting they abandon their own customs, language and dress. How soon we forget.

There is no myth to true thanksgiving. I cherish the many gifts from Nature, family and friends that fill my life. I am truly thankful for the freedom I have, to explore my world and dreams, but I do not believe that the wars of Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan have in any way protected or enhanced that freedom. I believe quite the reverse. These wars too are full of myths and lies and have tragically taken the precious lives of our brave soldiers and those of the countries we overrun. It is not only the death or mutilation of soldiers in these distant lands we wage war against, but civilians and their land also suffer unbearably from bombs and biological weapons used against them. The cost also has been in wasted resources that might have helped build a better world for all our citizens... better health care and better education. Sadly we do not even take care of our returning wounded soldiers, in body, mind or spirit, who put their trust in our leaders. We began this country we call the United States of America by invading another peoples' world and we continued to invade other countries and claim their land as our own... such as Hawaii and Puerto Rico (seized from Spain) just to name two. This is part of our history and that of most every country in the world . . . exploiting, invading and conquering others who would be weaker in 'might' alone . . . than that of the conquerors.

So why do I write all this on a day of celebration and thanksgiving. I write this to perhaps touch one or two, who might read this and hopefully not hate the writer, but who might agree our holidays deserve truth within the festivities. I write for Native Americans still protesting this holiday that depicts their ancestors in an unkind and biased light. Today there is a group of Native Americans gathering in Plymouth to protest not so much our celebrating Thanksgiving . . .  nor do they wish to take it away from us. They are calling today a 'Day of Mourning'. They stand to demand truth and justice and should be offered our thanks and reparation. I stand here on this land I love . . . in solidarity for truth, with the threads from a fabric of my soul trailing from the distance past, to my paternal great grandmother Sophronie of the Choctaw nation. I wish Peace and bountiful harvests to all peoples the world over. 
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