Thanksgiving from the Other Side

101126_feast.jpgOn one side of Thanksgiving, there’s the gratitude of desperate pilgrims without sufficient food and resources to make it through the winter — gratitude to the indigenous people for sharing from their store of sustainable sufficiency.

On the other side, there’s the thanks given back to those indigenous people by the European pilgrims and their successors.

That other side isn’t lost on comedian Jon Stewart, who quips,

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

Nor is it lost on journalism professor Robert Jensen in his 2005 essay “No Thanks to Thanksgiving,” where he writes,

One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting…. Instead, we should atone for the genocide that was incited — and condoned — by the very men we idolize as our ‘heroic’ founding fathers.

You won’t find what he digs up in the history books distributed through mainstream American education. Thanks to Carolyn Baker for bringing this essay to light. Unsurprisingly, she’s the author of U.S. History Uncensored: What Your High School Textbook Didn’t Tell You, and the gifted information warrior behind Speaking Truth to Power website.


  1. I think we have to avoid engaging in “presentism,” that is judging the actions of people who lived many hundreds of years ago by the standards of today. Yes, the genocide against the native peoples of the Americas was terrible by today’s standards, but the white people at the time thought they were just claiming their “god-given right” and the heathens were going to hell anyway. We should try to learn from history, however, but it doesn’t seem we do: look at Rwanda, Bosnia, etc. And religion is still a powerful force for destruction in our world. Anyway, I read somewhere that the original Thanksgiving was just a myth.

  2. Pilgrims who shared the 1st feast with the local native tribe were not entirely those who committed atrocities on the indigenous population. That task was done when the Puritans arrived with their models of exploitation and extraction for capitalistic gains. This is not to say that some of the individual Pilgrims were innocent in their behavior and actions toward the indigenous people and tribes of the region. Though also, some individual Pilgrims co-existed as much as much as was possible.
    Also, other Europeans enslaved some of the region’s indigenous populations prior to the Pilgrim’s arrival. Nathanial Philbrick’s book Mayflower does a fair job explaining this early feast and the players in it’s history.
    I think too it important to note that European white men are not the inventors of war, although their use of it for resource acquisition, economic domination, exploitation, cultural destruction and murder are abominable and detestable.
    Indigenous peoples of the continent known as north america were not innocent from warring.

  3. Mark Pearce says:

    Obviously we’re both saddened that the more reverential view of the Earth (resonate with the term “sustainability”) was largely displaced by a domineering one.

    One only has to read the feature article on the coal industry in the December 9th Rolling Stone Magazine to realize that humankind has lost a lot of its humanity.

  4. Mark,
    I’m sure those present at the first Thanksgiving were very grateful. My intent wasn’t so much literal as broader-brush. However, it seems pretty possible that the pilgrims began taking over land from the native peoples, creating private property for settlers in a region where land was held in common. And eventually the native people were driven from their commons as the Euros took it over.

  5. Mark Pearce says:

    Janaia —

    I pretty much agree that over time Native Americans were treated shabbily by European descendants, but I don’t know that I would hang that charge on the people who actually were involved in the first thanksgiving feast. There were many people who lived in admiration of Native Americans and their lifestyles over the decades. I assume that by feasting with the native population, there was a certain amount of mutual respect at the time of the first thanksgiving, which may or may not have subsisted among those particular individuals, as far as I know.

    That doesn’t excuse the atrocities that occurred over the centuries between our two peoples, but I just don’t know that it’s fair to hang that charge on the original Pilgrims. They may have been the shining light.

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