|In 1620, the English ship Mayflower landed on the North American coast off-loading some 100 Puritan religious fanatics (the so-called “Pilgrims”) in the middle of the New England winter. The indigenous inhabitants of this area had already been reduced to almost nothing shortly after 1614 when an English exploratory force made first contact there.
Upon their departure they enslaved 24 Indians who were later sold in Europe. They had also infected what was then referred to as the “tribes of New England” with smallpox, syphilis and gonorrhea, destroying most of this populace almost entirely in a matter of a few years.
The Pilgrims endured numerous hardships and survived largely due to the unselfish aid and assistance of Squanto, the Pawtuxet Indian (and former captive of English explorer John Smith) who painstakingly instructed the Pilgrims on the intricacies of fishing and successful farming techniques specific to the New World. The Pilgrims held a “harvest feast” at the end of their first year that essentially celebrated a bountiful harvest of potatoes, not the kind of great, big Idaho spuds that today’s American consumer purchases at Walmart, but of a puny, fingerling size. Squanto also brokered a peace treaty of sorts with the Wampanoag tribe, whose leader was the great chief Massasoit.
At this feast of thanksgiving the Indians were not even invited. Only Chief Massasoit was asked to attend and it was he who actually invited his Indian brothers and sisters much to the extreme dissatisfaction of the Pilgrims. There was never any roast turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, stuffing with turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie – absolutely no prayers were said and the Indians present were never again invited to take part in anything else with the Pilgrims.
However, there was one more “Thanksgiving” of note. In 1641, a heavily armed militia successfully raided the Pequot tribe in Connecticut. English Captain John Mason attacked the sleeping Indian encampment with huge torches, large-caliber rifles that fired metal rounds the size of tennis balls, and swords and axes.
A mere handful of Pequots escaped and hardly any prisoners were allowed to be taken alive. And in the words of Mason himself: “To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice to the great delight of the Pilgrims, and they gave praise thereof to God.”
A coalition of New England churches then declared a “special day of thanksgiving” to celebrate the Pequot defeat. The decapitated, rotting heads of Indians were kicked through the streets of Manhattan during this particular fest. And a multitude of towns in New England threw similar big blowouts that coincided with this “victory” over Satan’s offspring, as the Indians were then regarded.
When I finally became an ex-Catholic years ago, I decided to "celebrate" Thanksgiving by having a special dinner for my family members, the numbers of which have seriously dwindled since 2003. Being a school-trained "chef" I take this once-a-year opportunity to prepare basically everything I have ever done and everything I have never done -- Cranberry Sherbert anyone?
Chaske Martin (Dakota/Oneida/Northern Cheyenne) currently resides in the Philippines and is working on a novel that focuses on family dysfunction in "Indian Country."