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ThanksGrieving: The Poisoned Tale of New England Settlers

By Liam Woodworth-Cook

Thanksgiving is probably the most American holiday in the United States. We trace its roots back to the Mayflower, as Pilgrims banded together in the area that would be Massachusetts. The famous meal was shared with several Indigenous tribes who helped these settlers with planting food. This is the mythos, the whitewashed history of genocide and colonization. The arrival of Columbus in 1492 started a mass terror of genocide, colonialism, and racism spanning two continents; this legacy continues today.

We are told Thanksgiving is a celebration of giving thanks, and that the famous meal was a coming together of thanks. While it is true that the European settlers were desperate for ways to survive the upcoming winter and relied on Indigenous support, this hopeful anecdote sidelines the effects of the settlers in North America. European diseases had arrived before the Mayflower and would continue to have a devastating effect of the native populations. The famous Squanto (his full name was Tisquantum), a native who would assist the English settlers on the supposed “first Thanksgiving”, was kidnapped by the English and sold as a slave to Spanish priests. Once freed, Squanto found his way to England and lived in England for six years.

Arriving back to Turtle Island (an indigenous name for North America), he walked from what would be Maine back to his tribe near the colony of Plymouth. He then became a translator of sorts between the Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes and the English settlers. His lending hand of knowledge allowed the settlers to plant food and survive the winter. This is where we get the sweet story of two cultures shaking hands and breaking bread. History shows that this was short lived.

On May 26, 1637, the Pequot Massacre took place. A Puritan force with Native allies sprung a dawn assault on a Pequot fort, slaughtering and burning up to 500 men, women and children. Part of a three-year war against the Pequot tribe, it was the their first defeat by the English. A narrow defeat — the English had lost most of their forces when they lit the fort on fire to turn the tide.

Whole villages would be slaughtered time and time again, in what is known as total war, as the settlers stole this land. The English leader of the raid, Captain Mason, would later write a justification of the attack in which he imagined God laughing at the fate of the Pequot: “But GOD was above them, who laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to scorn, making them [the Pequot] as a fiery Oven… Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the place [Mystic] with dead Bodies.”

Before the horrific Trans-Atlantic slave trade was established, Indigenous people had been kidnapped as slaves since Columbus’s arrival. As more settlers arrived, east to west and north to south, the land and peoples of Turtle Island were ravaged.

In New England, it is easy to overlook the history of resistance that occurred; the fact this land was inhabited long before the European settlers arrived, and was ripped from the Native inhabitants in bloodshed. Erasure is the removing of record, data or other information. The United States has a infamous legacy of erasure, still occurring by silencing indigenous populations. Indigenous women are the most likely group to be sexually assaulted, and 80 percent or more of these cases are from non-native men. In erasure and whitewashing history, the United States, perpetuating the myths, become complicit in letting the sorrowful history of genocide go unnoticed.

Enjoy the weekend off of school, family and friends. Eat well and recognize the history, of the stolen land we set our tables on. Take a deep breath and examine the complexities of how this nation was founded. Indigenous populations are also not only on the reservations their ancestors were forced into, they live in cities across the States and even attend SMCC. We are living on stolen ground. Maine is home to the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot, among others. The Puritan settlers named the commonwealth Massachusetts, after the Massachusetts tribe. There is a deep history of the indigenous struggle in the United States. Recognize it still exists today.

thanksgrieving

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