13 Thanksgivings

Dear YS, I have reached the conclusion that Thanksgiving is not only a “politically correct” holiday, it is also, gender, race, regionally, religiously, economically and patriotically “correct.”

What does your EB (Elder Brother) mean? Most, maybe all of our national holidays, have a gender, racial, regional, religious, economic or patriotic, particularity, but Thanksgiving is inclusive, some would say democratic (Avoid confusing that with the political party that has that name). It is available to all of us, and shuts nobody out.

Therefore, I wish that all of our soon-to-be many readers, will have the best Thanksgiving ever! Most of us have discovered that in the midst of some of our most distressing, disturbing and painful moments, when we have been able to acknowledge that there are still things for which we can be thank-full, a ray of sun breaks through and we can smile for a moment or two or more.

What do you think?


Dear EB,

I’m pretty sure that the American Indian perspective on Thanksgiving would not deem it very “correct.” For that first feast with the pilgrims (though they weren’t exactly on a holy pilgrimage) signaled the beginning of the end of their way of life, connection to and ownership of the land, and instead of blessing opened the floodgate of physical, spiritual, and cultural abuse.

Your letter motivated me to search the internet for different perspectives. I’ve pulled some quotes from longer essays and articles and included the links to the sites below. What strikes me is that we cannot speak for another’s experience, but there is truth in your words of finding something to be thankful for in the midst of chaos, desperation, injustice, and pain. There we can find a shared, universal road to survival when we give voice to our particular gratitude (not, “you should be thankful that…”).

May we make room to hear each other’s prayers of thanks, what has come before and can come after.

Yours truly, with thankfulness,


“In 1789, President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving decree ordering a national observance Nov. 26. The tableau entrenched in the American imagination of feasting pilgrims and compassionate New England Indians who saved newcomers from starvation is absent from the executive proclamation. Rather, Washington, like others before him, asked that Americans “[acknowledge] with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness…’

We know that Indians and newcomers, or “visitors” as one elderly Northwest Coast Indian woman calls non-Natives, shared meals. When not feasting, however, colonizers — Spanish, French, English, other Europeans, and finally the United States — in the name of the Doctrine of Discovery, papal legal reasoning, and Manifest Destiny carried out inhumane acts of violence against scores of Indian people, villages, and tribes…

The Doctrine of Discovery imposed a kind of order on the parceling of Others’ lands during the discovery era. Native resistance was met with swift and violent death, deceptive paper signings, and vague explanations about God’s will. But the Doctrine remains the underlying principle that governs U.S. policies toward Indian tribes today, and its tenets have shaped persistent American attitudes and actions toward Native people.”

Jacki Rand (Choctaw) is a UI associate professor of history.


“What did the Europeans give in return? Within 20 years European disease and treachery had decimated the Wampanoags. Most diseases then came from animals that Europeans had domesticated. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, one of the great killers of our people, spread through gifts of blankets used by infected Europeans. Some estimate that diseases accounted for a death toll reaching 90 percent in some Native American communities. By 1623, Mather the elder, a Pilgrim leader, was giving thanks to his God for destroying the heathen savages to make way “for a better growth,” meaning his people.

In stories told by the Dakota people, an evil person always keeps his or her heart in a secret place separate from the body. The hero must find that secret place and destroy the heart in order to stop the evil.

I see, in the “First Thanksgiving” story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale than needs to be told. What did it hold? Bigotry, hatred, greed, self-righteousness? We have seen the evil that it caused in the 350 years since. Genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, racism.

Where is the hero who will destroy that heart of evil? I believe it must be each of us. Indeed, when I give thanks this Thursday and I cook my native food, I will be thinking of this hidden heart and how my ancestors survived the evil it caused.

Because if we can survive, with our ability to share and to give intact, then the evil and the good will that met that Thanksgiving day in the land of the Wampanoag will have come full circle.

And the healing can begin.”

Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux works with the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in Winds of Change, an American Indian journal. http://www.purewatergazette.net/nativeamericanthanksgiving.htm

“As she often does at this time of year, Richmond was explaining the origins of Thanksgiving from a Native American point of view — how the so-called “First Thanksgiving” was actually part of a much larger cycle of Native American thanksgiving festivals and how roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie probably weren’t on the menu. (Instead, the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag dinner guests most likely sat down to a meal of venison served with dried corn and fruit).

But it was a number that Richmond had used — 13 — that really piqued the youngster’s interest.

‘I told them that Native American groups like the Wampanoag often celebrated many different thanksgivings, sometimes as many as thirteen,” Richmond says. “And this young boy really thought that was strange. I think he had this image of a bunch of people sitting around eating turkey and watching football thirteen times a year — which, of course, would be pretty strange.’”