It was more than a few years ago; I was exposed to the “other” side of Thanksgiving…That is when I read about the United American Indians of New England and their proclamation of Thanksgiving as their day of mourning. This bit of news came as a bit of a shock to me, especially since I had just gotten used to the idea of this typically American holiday…not only cooking but stuffing a turkey, accompanying it with a variety of side dishes doused in more than a reasonable amount of butter and topping it off with more than a reasonable amount of dessert. Oh yes, in full disclosure, Thanksgiving meal is not my favorite by any means but I did spend just about every single year since 1985 (the year I married my American husband) cooking a full Thanksgiving meal because I believed in “giving thanks.” Not surprisingly, the best part of that meal for me has always been going around the table and hearing what each family member was thankful for…I may have spent many a Thanksgiving snacking on cheese and bread to avoid the rest of the meal, but I certainly gave many thanks, many times for the gift of family.
In the years following my discovery of the “mourning” perspective on Thanksgiving, I was producing TV stories for Channel Five in Boston and as I kept up with my story suggestions about ethnicities and minorities, I succeeded in covering a range of stories from the casino enterprises of the Mashantucket Pequots to the land reclamations of the Native Indians of Quebec Province. Granted not all Native Americans would point to Thanksgiving as their national day of mourning but that “dark” part of Thanksgiving has always stayed with me over the years. It was depressing to me then as it is now, that a national holiday reaching back to the first Thanksgiving back in 1621 when Pilgrims and Native Americans broke bread together, means something entirely different to some. This latter group reacts to the overwhelmingly Eurocentric point of view about Thanksgiving and feel the celebration of Thanksgiving should include something about the shameful part of U.S. history vis-à-vis the Native Americans. They’re not alone the Native Americans…In this nation of immigrants called the United States of America, there are many millions of us who hail from various parts of the world, where an increasingly educated and questioning population is challenging official historical narratives. Many of us, myself included, are trying to find the right balance between finding out about the dark passages of our ancestral homelands, with the need to celebrate the togetherness that once existed on those very lands long before our time. To me, the question comes down to the following: do American school children have to give up on the cute Pilgrim and turkey cutouts in order to fully comprehend why some American Indians have resentment over the superficial treatment of history in relation to Thanksgiving? I certainly hope not.
And so, on this day of Thanksgiving 2012, my giving thanks for my family and loved ones will be followed by a little prayer (in no specific language whatsoever) for the kind of world where we can work towards unearthing past wrongs without sacrificing more united tomorrows.