[Took a break this week. Here’s a repost from November 2020 with an added question for you to answer at the end.]
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A day of thanksgiving and a day of mourning will be commemorated this Thursday. The one by millions across the country. The other by a handful of Native Americans at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Most Americans celebrate the Pilgrims landing in 1620. Native Americans do not. Most Americans buy the myth of Pilgrim philanthropy toward the Wampanoag. Native Americans do not.
Since 1970 the United American Indians of New England have commemorated a National Day of Mourning. It’s a day to honor Native ancestors and Native peoples’ struggle to survive. It’s a day of remembrance as well as protest against racism and oppression that Native Americans still experience. It’s preceded by a day of fasting.
I get it. Life is not always jolly.
There is a time to dance and a time to mourn.
Still, I can celebrate Thanksgiving without swallowing the Pilgrim myth, just as many celebrate Christmas without swallowing the Virgin Birth, the serenading angels, or the Magi’s astrology. We wink at the myth and embrace the spirit of the day.
We give thanks. We exchange gifts. We let the myth have its day.
But myths are not facts.
I cherish many myths—Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, the rising phoenix—but I cherish the truth more.
The Pilgrims and their successors undertook the genocide of millions of Native peoples, the theft of Native lands, and a relentless assault on Native cultures.
We have many holidays for merrymaking. But we don’t have a holiday for mourning, a time to pause and remember our transgressions.
The Jewish people do. On Yom Kippur they remember their sins, their failures at love and justice. It’s a day of fasting. It’s solemn but not sad. Mercy greets the repentant.
When we remember our transgressions, confess, and make amends, we find redemption. We walk in the light. When we forget or deny our transgressions, we walk in darkness.
We can be thankful any day. But Thanksgiving concentrates the mind on gratitude.
We can be remorseful any day. But a day of remembrance would concentrate our minds on contrition.
On such a day we would acknowledge the ways we have wounded ourselves and others, including Mother Earth and her creatures. We would fast. We would confess. We would weep. We would resolve to make reparations.
We need a national Day of Remembrance.
A humble nation becomes a better nation.
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What transgressions would you include in a national Day of Mourning? Please leave your answer in the comment window below.
Howard Zinn, the noted historian, once commented: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people”. The murder of countless Native Americans is evidence of that reality and no flag, no matter how large, can cover that shame.
Your blog also points to the implicit assumption of American exceptionalism. When people try to remind me of that myth, my response is simple: “Yes, America is exceptional—exceptionally violent.” A National Day of Remembrance would be a good idea.
Everyone’s ancestors came from somewhere else, and until recently in history they came bearing not gifts but weapons, and they often came to stay. The Anglo-Saxons who took the land occupied by Native Americans were descended from invaders of Celtic lands, who in turn descended from the people who exterminated the Neanderthals. Few Native American tribes occupied land that was not taken from another tribe. None of this is to justify the heap of happy horse manure that is the official Thanksgiving story, or excuse the colonists for the original sins of slavery and stealing an entire continent. The Pilgrims are not my favorite culture, but their transgressions seem understandable (if not forgivable) compared to the later slaughters of indigenous people in the present US conducted not out of desperation but out of simple greed.
Thanks Chris + Siple for your thoughtful and truth driven post. Too often I feel forced to agree fully with how horrible our history has been, without it ever being acknowledged that taken in context we (the implication being the U.S. (or worse the White US), have been only a portion of the entire human condition & history, where those with technology and fungible resources have taken advantage of those with less. We can be better. We strive to be better…..and let’s also not forget that there are not and have not been a lot of places/peoples in history that have kept the desire to be better as peoples at the forefront of their binding culture.
As my older brother used to quip: I’d be a really neat guy, if I weren’t so humble! Maybe if all our public school textbooks weren’t first vetted in Texas, we would speak more truth to ourselves, as persons, a people, and a nation.
Thank you and readers for such thought-provoking and affirming thoughts. All resonate.
I mourn transgressions I was unaware I was committing. Funny, how we think we aren’t hurting or repressing anyone if our intentions are “honorable.” But it’s the recipient who feels the pain of our lack of consciousness. I am no more exempt than anyone else, try as I might to take the high road. This is a hard truth, often realized in hindsight. Maybe we should all remember that while we may be here to learn, especially to learn to love, it might be wise and honorable to learn what these ideas mean to others, and observe them.
And yes, I feel personally ashamed of our Founders’ behavior, lies, myths, and their descendents who continue to extol derision and “othering”, as D. Trump is again fomenting for his hate-mongering crowds.
I give thanks for awareness, Truth, and continued opportunities to make amends and/or walk the talk.
Slavery. Lingering racism against Blacks.
Yes! This is so good to read, so good to have it spelled out so well. Thank you! I am 100% onboard for a national day of contrition and remembrance, a national day of confession. The Pilgrim Fathers (and Mothers, I suppose) have a lot to answer for and there has never even been a discussion that we know of among them or their descendants, right up to this very moment outlining and acknowledging the wholesale desecration of a people. All of your reader’s comments are right on!
How about a US day of atonement for refusing to make reparations to the developing world for bringing on deadly climate disasters while our politicians trumpet every little baby step we grudgingly take, all the while leading the charge at COP 27 to stand in the way of meaningful action? The US is exceptional, after all.
I once listened to a wonderful A.M.E. Bishop speak on the state of the nation. He embarrassed perpetually sunny with a series of lamentations as in
I lament the spirit of hate
I lament our greed and avarice
I lament our acceptance of poverty & violence
I lament that so much violence rises from poverty and crushing injustice
I lament our cowardice at facing truth.