By Fredric Price on November 25, 2020
Thinking about some of the myths about our country that have been raised during the shouting leading up to and after the recent election (which I won’t go into now as I’m finally able to take a deep breath and calm down) has got me thinking about the myth of Thanksgiving, coming up tomorrow. Yes, the myth surrounding the holiday. An excellent overview can be found in the following article from the Smithsonian Magazine (bit.ly/3pYcHN8) by Claire Bugos. You can also read ‘The Invention of Thanksgiving,’ an article in The New Yorker by Philip Deloria (bit.ly/3nPeVfY) which contains a review of David Silverman’s book, ‘This Land is Their Land.’
Now don’t go crazy, this isn’t an anti-American holiday screed. But we do need to face the facts (yes, indisputable facts) of our American origin stories, and how clinging to myths and walking away from truths has no home at American exceptionalism’s door.
While it’s likely true that little to nothing about the holiday stems from the story we’ve been told and repeated down the ages, there are some positive things we can take away from a celebratory dinner (usually with families and close friends but not so much this year). We can honor our families and friends, be thankful for our health and happiness, be cognizant of what America has meant for us, while acknowledging the faults that still need to be addressed. So whether we say it out loud at the dining table or quietly to friends on the phone or on Zoom calls, we should take the time to recall some of the darker parts of the story and to commit to making sure we pass this down to our children and children’s children. It’s not so much a competing narrative as one that amplifies and contextualizes the story. For me, discussing the 1619 Project with friends has brought a more profound understanding of what it means to be an African American. Now, fifty years after Dee Brown’s monumental Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it’s time to do this for Native Americans.
And you know what? Some Native Americans agree.
Sean Herman, writing in Time (bit.ly/3pNYHp2), was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the 1970s and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. He acknowledges the myth of the holiday, yet has a positive spin on it. “Many of my indigenous brothers and sisters refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving, protesting the whitewashing of the horrors our ancestors went through, and I don’t blame them. But I have not abandoned the holiday. I have just changed how I practice it.
“The thing is, we do not need the poisonous ‘pilgrims and Indians’ narrative. We do not need that illusion of past unity to actually unite people today. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.
“People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.”
Thanksgiving can be a celebration even if the story of the first one is debunked. Share your celebration privately or on social media channels. You’ll be surprised how much this will resonate. Happy Thanksgiving!
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