Where’s reality in all the kitsch cartoons and platitudes surrounding this national holiday? To me, the whitewashing of a genocide, the lionizing of pillagers and rapists, the fumbling through mass graves to find something cutesy, is the sin and offense of Thanksgiving. I don’t begrudge anyone time with their families. Breaking bread with each other on a day of leisure is a good thing people should practice more often. I don’t look down on anyone getting together to declare the things they are thankful for. Coming from the Lakota culture, I think thankfulness should be expressed every day. The elders used to turn to the four directions upon waking, and be glad for another day with the dirt under their feet. They gave thanks just to exist in a world that had lessons to teach the observant. So while Thanksgiving is testament to a failure by omission the other 364 days of the year, at least America has one day set aside to try to practice the important virtue of thankfulness.
What I have a problem with is the cover up. What I detest is the mythology we’ve swept an atrocity under. There’s skeletons rattling in the closet of Thanksgiving, and the most offensive thing is those skeletons aren’t even ignored, but desecrated by dolling them up with falsehoods.
Thanksgiving is indicative of how badly America wants to view itself as the good guy in history. Its pathological. It brings to mind that famous opus of George Orwell 1984 where history is rewritten at whim. In 1984, at all times the brainwashed are taught their culture never did a wrong, was never at the helm of an injustice. Perhaps this functions the same in America as in 1984: to involve the populace in the maintenance of the status quo. Imbuing them with pride for being a part of such a glorious, heroic institution. To the point where rather than face up to its own bloody legacy, America would prefer to falsely portray its treatment of Natives as benevolent.
Out with the auto de fe’s, the rapings, the narcissism of industrial civilization, two hundred years of physical and psychological oppression, the reality, the things that actually happened. In with the hallmark slogans about sharing with one another, in with cartoons where Native and Pilgrim get along like lion laying down with the lamb in the biblical end times, in with the comfortable lie, everything that has no basis in history.
America can’t seem to accept its own past. Yet so much is built on the lie of American saintliness, America is actually forced into making up an alternative history for itself. This alternative history is what we’re all force fed in kindergarten, what we see all season long plastered across the mass media.
Yet to accept this cheery alternative history is to become complicit in all atrocity by perpetuating the cover up. The pilgrims were not some pre-colonial league of heroes, morally pure as the driven snow. They were religious bigots, who confused their own greed, superstition, and ignorance with the voice of god telling them to conquer a continent. The first Europeans who came to this continent were brutal psychopaths. For an example of their depravity, they actually thought their god was pleased by every so often gathering thirteen Natives to burn, commemorating Christ and the twelve apostles.
The ones who came to this continent represented the dumb savagery of empire. They were the children of Constantine, arriving with a sword in one hand and a bible in the other. Practicing the ancient imperialistic science of grinding down another culture, then when all is broken and in chaos, absorbing that culture into the lower classes of itself. Because empire is ultimately like the monster Iya, ever hungry, needing to consume. Empires always need more to gobble into their 99 percent cannon fodder class that sustains the luxury of the 1 percent ruling elite.
Here, Constantine is the American legacy. An empire built on the bone dust of innocent children, whose cornerstones are mass graves, where every tapestry has been weaved of blood and skin. If you live in America, this is the house you live in. What happened in America is nothing less than the biggest holocaust ever known to this planet. You could fit the number dead from every other genocide in the world into this American holocaust several times.
So this is why Thanksgiving can be upsetting to anyone of a Native American heritage. We see the corpses of our past, drudged out of their disrespected graves, painted with some syrupy sap, just so America can get a fuzzy feeling about itself. 200 years later, the myth that we aren’t even human still lives on.
Could anyone imagine Disney ever treating the abomination of slavery like they treat the abomination of Native American genocide? Trivializing, rewriting history, making horror into cutesy fun? Even among other minority groups America mistreats, Native Americans somehow are the lowest of the low. It’s such utter hypocrisy for America to pound its chest for human rights, decry other genocides around the world. America needs to point the finger at its own heart, because there lies the biggest genocide of all, and ramifications it still refuses to deal with. Yet all the distortions around something like Thanksgiving are symptomatic of a determination to be blind. A determination to not deal with anything that says America has ever been less than good in any of its actions.
It really is like 1984 trying to get this society to see history has been rewritten here. There is a historical reality, but there’s another reality society has decided it prefers, another reality that benefits the dominating power structure. As Native Americans, we’d love to join you in the rewrite. We’d love to program your alternative history into the matrix and change all the historical trauma. We’d love if the hallmark specials about pilgrim and native fraternity were a reality. Yet its all bullshit, a fantasy, and not an innocent fantasy for us. Because ours is the historical trauma of real history to deal with. All the horror of the past is ours to try to build something positive from. So its spit into the eyes, and salt into a grievous wound, to try to lessen that. To change it into something it wasn’t to protect some cherished illusion of an American golden age.
Perhaps the saddest thing about Thanksgiving is it’s essentially a Native American tradition. Not the day of gorging and football that America celebrates. That’s more the translated through colonized psychology, bastardized consumeristic version. I talk of the coming together, the sharing, the kindness to the stranger, the treating of those who come to your home as if they are family. You won’t find values closer to the heart of Native American philosophy as these. Natives weren’t savages. We just subscribed to a philosophy different from the ever hungry industrial empire that needed more resources and people to gobble into its bowels. We were of a way opposed to the American hierarchy. A way that taught us all were equal, and could live on the earth with respect and harmony. We had no 1 percent that the 99 percent of the population slaved to keep propped in place. Instead, we practiced something that resembled democracy more than the American corporate oligarchy has come close to in its whole history.
Everything could have played out so differently, if not for the poisonous narcissism and stupid brutality of empires, the things they eat to expand. The broken, abused communities, the unjust hierarchical strata of society, the dying natural world, and the mass graves it was all built on, this is the reality that Thanksgiving tends to obscure. So America, celebrate with family and friends, enjoy the company of community, but spare at least a moment, to think about the history behind this day.