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#83: Truthsgiving

American Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition, history, and… lies. And violence, and negativity and just a lot of things that you cannot ignore once you know them.

The truth of Thanksgiving is that the English settlers at Plymouth allied themselves with the Wampanoag people, whose land they were settling on. In 1621, they gathered for a three-day fall feast in celebration of the settlers’ first harvest. Our kindergarten teachers lied to us about the rest of the situation, though.

From a young age, we learn that English religious exiles began establishing civilization in “the New World”, winning over the local tribes with their overwhelming Christian kindness and hospitality, and then the native people taught the settlers how to grow crops to sustain themselves. There’s a whole lot more to the real story, and it’s not nearly so Peanuts’ friendly as the truth. Which is super sad, because I love the Peanuts version of the first Thanksgiving. That shit is heartwarming. I wish it was like that.

The first Thanksgiving was a crowd, of at least 90 Wampanoag and 50 Englishmen. They would have dined at tables and on the ground, eating geese, turkey, other assorted birds, and deer. During the three days the attendees would have played marksmanship games and ran footraces. Pretty simple vibes. Seems kinda wholesome just in that moment, and I’ll give it to ya- maybe it was. But the greater context is what’s more important, and ultimately where the controversy lay.

In reality, the version of the Thanksgiving story we’ve been taught over the years is a white washed version of history, trying to direct the true violence and damage out of the narrative and CERTAINLY away from our country’s veritable founders. What I told you just now wasn’t a lie- like I said, the reality of the feast itself may have been incredibly friendly, celebratory, wholesome. But what matters is the greater context. First of all, the peace that brought the Wampanoag and the settlers together at the table wasn't as solid as we are usually taught. A lot of bloodshed took place both before and after that first feast, in spite of what most of your history teachers would have you believe. In fact, in honor of that bloodshed many First Nations peoples now observe Thanksgiving weekend as a time of remembrance, rather than a celebration of thankfulness. I’ve decided that I actually want to start commemorating the tragedies and remembrance that Thanksgiving carries with it in honor of that. In recognition of how their people have been uprooted from their ancestral home, traumatized, slaughtered and subjugated. In observance of the unfairness that my life is wonderful, and so many of them have been denied those opportunities.

For some more context, we have to talk some history. The first treaty negotiated between the Wampanoag and the Plymouth settlers was in 1620, by leader Massasoit. This included an agreement that no one from either group could harm the other and that weapons would be left at home when trading with one another. And for 10 years, this worked out. English goods were traded for Wampanoag land, resources and goods. I’m sure tons of valueless goods to the English were probably traded to the Wampanoag and that drives me crazy… auuuuugh.

Anyway, Massosoit passed and his son Wamsutta took over. Between 1630 and 1642 about 25000 colonizers arrived from Europe, and a plague devastated the native population and cut it to less than half. Huh, wonder where that came from.

Then, the Wampanoag leader, Wamsutta, himself died in 1662 under mysterious circumstances while visiting the Puritans to discuss rising tensions. Wamsutta’s successor, Metacomet, went on to… well, make things interesting, we’ll say.

In 1675, three Natives were executed after murdering a man who had served as a translator to the settlers, which only further inflamed distrust between the two groups. Metacomet feared the Natives would lose more land to the new “settlers”, which was clearly absolutely correct, so he built a coalition of various Native tribes to protect themselves and their resources. By the fall of 1675, the coalition began to clash with settlers, attacking settlements in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The Narragansett tribe wanted to remain neutral, but wouldn’t give up Wampanoag who had taken refuge in their encampment, nor would they refuse to give shelter to women, children and the elderly from the Wampanoag. As a result, the Puritan forces (which is a phrase that feels very….. Ironic?) attacked the Narragansett stronghold, massacring up to 600 Natives and about 150 settlers.

This would be the beginning of King Philip’s War, so called after Metacomet’s English nickname. The war would decimate both the Native tribes and the colonies. Wampanoag abducted settlers and held them ransom, and the settlers pillaged and destroyed Native villages. It would take decades for the settlements to recover, but the Natives never truly would. This is also theorized to be the beginning of the hauntings of the Bridgewater Triangle- that the absolute decimation of these people and the negative energy that comes with that might have penetrated into the ground itself, cursing the geographical area to this day.

One article in The Historical Journal of Massachusetts says the conflict might have claimed as much as 30% of the English population and half of the Native Peoples in New England.

The war only ended when Metacomet was killed, beheaded and dismembered, according to It Happened in Rhode Island. His head was then impaled on a spike and displayed in Plymouth for about 25 years... the Puritans were dark, dudes. Supposedly his surviving allies also either got executed or sold into slavery in the West Indies. Real “pure”.

Of course, King Phillip’s War was far from the only conflict between Natives and colonizers. Wars raged in Virginia, Connecticut, New York… really, everywhere the white man tried to take land that didn’t belong to him. Between the wars and disease, the Native population has never really recovered. The New World, as the settlers called it, was truly a millenia old thriving society, coming to an end at their very hands.

Thus, since 1970 Native Americans and supporters have gathered at noon on Cole's Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving Day. Those who honor the National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate spiritual connectedness and to remember those lost; it’s also a form of protest against the oppression and racism that Natives have suffered since the Puritans set foot on New England’s shore, and still experience to this day.


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