Dear Editor:

I read Mike Buffington's article in the Banks County News about the history of the establishment of Thanksgiving Day. I also recently read a Facebook post from Pow Wow Nation that presented a history of this celebration that I'd never heard before and actually shocked me. I can't find the original post, but I found a similar one and added some research referencing Abraham Lincoln, who was mentioned in the original post:

Truth behind "Thanksgiving." Why we decided to change the nomenclature to Gratitude Day.

In 1607, Chief Wahunsonacock (Powhatan) of the Powhatan confederacy, and his people, brought gifts of fish, wild game, and corn to the starving settlers.

This is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.

The gratitude of the new Americans, however, did not last.

The following year in 1608, John Smith orders the Powhatan to submit to the English Crown and provide settlers with an annual tribute of corn. John Smith forcefully takes corn from villages, and Powhatan orders him to be captured.

In 1609, war breaks out between the Powhatan and the Virginia colonists as they steal land, pillage graves, occupy Native villages, and enslave Natives.

On June 5, 1637, Captain Mason attacks a Pequot village near present-day Stonington and massacres the community. Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announce a second day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory. Reportedly, during the feasting, the hacked-off heads of Natives are kicked through the streets like soccer balls. On July 28, a third attack and massacre occur near present-day Fairfield and the Pequot “War” comes to an end.

The day after the massacre, William Bradford, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, writes that from that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequot and “For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

This event marks the first actual Thanksgiving. During this period of history, the Puritans and other English colonists generally declared a day of thanksgiving to celebrate the successful massacre of Native communities and to honor “victories” ordained by God rather than celebrating successful harvests (Oxendine, 2019; Native Voices, "AD 1637: English settlers burn Pequot village").

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, as more explorers sought to colonize their land, Native Americans responded in various stages, from cooperation to indignation to revolt.

After siding with the French in numerous battles during the French and Indian War and eventually being forcibly removed from their homes under Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, Native American populations were diminished in size and territory by the end of the 19th century.

While President Lincoln did sign the law creating an official Thanksgiving Day. But in fact, Abraham Lincoln is not seen as much of a hero at all among many American Indian tribes and Native peoples of the United States, as the majority of his policies proved to be detrimental to them.

For instance, the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 helped precipitate the construction of the transcontinental railroad, which led to the significant loss of land and natural resources, as well as the loss of lifestyle and culture, for many tribal people. In addition, rampant corruption in the Indian Office, the precursor of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, continued unabated throughout Lincoln’s term and well beyond. In many cases, government-appointed Indian agents outright stole resources that were supposed to go to the tribes.

In other cases, the Lincoln administration simply continued to implement discriminatory and damaging policies, like placing Indians on reservations. Beginning in 1863, the Lincoln administration oversaw the removal of the Navajos and the Mescalero Apaches from the New Mexico Territory, forcing the Navajo to march 450 miles to Bosque Redondo—a brutal journey. Eventually, more than 2,000 died before a treaty was signed.

Several massacres of Indians also occurred under Lincoln’s watch. For example, the Dakota War in Minnesota in 1862 led to the hanging of thirty-eight Indian men—303 Indian men had been sentenced to hang, but the others were spared by Lincoln’s pardon.

Thus, while a short synopsis, this day of Thanksgiving's history is riddled with genocide and marginalization of our Native people, which has continued through the 19th century.


Martha Young


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