In September/October of 1621 the Pilgrims had just finished harvesting their first crops and celebrated by firing their guns and cannons into the air. The Wampanoags, upon hearing the gunfire coming from the Pilgrim settlement, dispatched a party of 90 warriors under Massasoit to investigate and render any necessary aid to the colonists. Upon arriving at the settlement the Wampanoags were told the reason for the gunfire and invited to join in the feast. Since there was not enough food for the warriors, Massasoit directed his party to bring in additional game to add to the celebration. The official proclamation of Thanksgiving, 16 years later, has its origins elsewhere – in slaughter, gore and carnage. In a proclamation issued in May 1637, Gov. John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony announced an official “Day of Thanksgiving” to celebrate the return of the colonial militia from a massacre of a large town of the Pequot Indians in Connecticut. In this slaughter over 700 indigenous men, women and children were killed with many burned alive. This war was followed by Metacom’s War (in mainstream history called King Philip’s War) of 1675-1678 . Metacom was the second son of the Wampanoag sachem, Massasoit, who had that happenstance “Thanksgiving” dinner, described earlier, with the Pilgrims. Metacom’s War had its genesis in Pilgrim greed for Native land and control of Native lives. The Pilgrim population had changed since 1620 with the arrival of thousands of immigrants from England, in what has been called “The Great Migration.” They had no experience, knowledge or memories of any initial friendly interaction between Indigenous people and European newcomers.
The 50th #NationalDayofMourning was huge and uplifting. We had up to 1500 people rallying & marching in Plymouth, with great speakers repping Indigenous struggles within Bolivia, Hawaii, Labrador, Manitoba, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Mexico, MA, ME & more. pic.twitter.com/BoF0qwmEjb— ndnviewpoint (@mahtowin1) November 29, 2019
Also, the Pilgrims were financed by a joint-stock company. This was in the days of rising capitalism. By the early 1670s the colonists had 8,000 soldiers under arms and felt enough hubris to demand that the Wampanoags disarm and surrender their sovereignty and independence. This, of course, meant war. This war was the greatest disaster to take place in 17th Century New England and is considered to be the deadliest conflict in the history of Indian/colonist wars in proportion to the numbers of the contending populations involved. Thousands of lives were lost on each side. Twelve English towns were utterly destroyed and many more were severely damaged. The economies of Plymouth and Rhode Island were brought to ruin and the colonial population was decimated, losing, one-tenth of all males available for military service in the two colonies. The economy of the two colonies did not recover until decades later. The Wampanoag Confederacy, the Narragansetts, and their allies were decimated with countless numbers of captured women and children sold into slavery in the West Indies, North Africa, and Europe. By the beginning of the 18th Century, the Indigenous inhabitants of New England had been reduced to an incredibly small fraction of their former huge numbers and were living in small isolated enclaves.
A highlight of #NationalDayOfMourning this year was hearing from Indigenous communities impacted by hydro megadams. Amy Norman, Inuit from Labrador, spoke about #MuskratFalls resistance. There was a wonderful crew from #Pimicikamak Cree FN in Manitoba. #NDOM2019 @resistmegadams pic.twitter.com/HqVftv9ta1— ndnviewpoint (@mahtowin1) November 30, 2019
The war psychologically produced the mindset in the colonial population that there could be no peaceful coexistence between Indigenous and white. This was the true legacy of the “Thanksgiving” slaughter of 1637 that continued with the genocide machine that roared for over two hundred-plus bloodstained centuries, non-stop across the land that is now the United States. From coast to coast this legacy of genocide, pain and suffering produced the desperate wars of the Midwest, the ethnic cleansings of the Trail of Tears, the crucible of bloodshed in the Southwest and the maelstrom of slaughter of California Indians where there were regularly scheduled “ Indian Hunts.” The human holocaust that had begun with the “Thanksgiving” and consumed the lives of millions of the Indigenous finally leveled off in the late 19th Century as the racist mainstream media casually referred to those who survived as the “Vanishing Americans.” In the year 1900 federal census records tallied a Native population of only 237,196. The mass murders had finally stopped because as so aptly by one historian “There were at last almost no Indians left to kill.”
In 1997, 25 of us were arrested and many more pepper-sprayed while marching peacefully through the streets of Plymouth on #NationalDayOfMourning. #NDOM2019 #thankstaking #nothanksnogiving pic.twitter.com/j1XLGhTca9— ndnviewpoint (@mahtowin1) November 28, 2019
Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He was an organizer and delegate to the First and Second Intercontinental Indian Conferences held in Quito, Ecuador and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Recently, he has been an active participant and reporter in the Standing Rock struggle in North Dakota. He is an attorney and is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty. He is also writing a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war of the late 20th century. He is also the recipient of several Eagle Awards by the Tennessee Native American Eagle Organization and a former Director of Native American Legal Departments and a Tribal Public Defender.
Note: This article originally appeared on People's World. It is published under a Creative Commons license.