In the United States, Thanksgiving is a holiday of family and food. But the politics of the holiday — taught to elementary school children across the U.S. — are a racist and patriotic lie, representing the holocaust for millions of Native Americans.
The Thanksgiving that colonial Puritans — a group of religious fundamentalists — practiced was originally thanking god for the slaughter of Native Americans by colonial swords and diseases. There were many such Thanksgivings.
In 1637 a faction of Puritans occupied an area that is now Connecticut with the aid of British and Dutch colonial forces. In the pre-dawn hours they slaughtered more than 700 adults and children of the Pequot Tribe, who had gathered for their annual Green Corn festival. The next morning the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” for the occupier’s murder of the native population.
The truth about Thanksgiving helps us see the bosses’ lies. Progressive Labor Party aims to smash their grip on our minds so that we can build a fighting mass anti-racist communist movement that ends the bosses’ sexist, racist and genocidal system for good.
The Truth About Pilgrims and Indians
The “first” Thanksgiving dinner between “pilgrims” and “Indians,” reenacted by the U.S. ruling class in schools and TV specials, was in 1621 between the Wampanoag — a confederation of several Native American groups located mainly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — and a group of 121 English colonists led by 28 Puritans that landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Contrary to the idea that the colonists shared their food with the Wampanoags, the Puritans had too little to share. They only invited two natives, Squanto and Samoset, and sachem (tribal leader) Massasoit. They brought more than 90 fellow tribespeople as well as most of the food, in the egalitarian tradition of their communities. Whereas Wampanoag men and women ate together at the same time, Pilgrim women had to dine after their men were done, following their sexist Puritan tradition.
Without Squanto and Samoset, colonists would not have survived. Half of them died from diseases and starvation. The two taught the colonists how to fish, hunt, and grow crops. However, the Puritans regarded Native Americans as “heathens,” and saw Squanto as “god’s instrument” to help the “chosen” people, the pilgrims. Squanto had been captured more than 15 years earlier and brought to Europe, where he was taught English and became a Christian. When he returned to New England 14 years later, settled with the Pilgrims, aiding them not only in their survival, but in their campaigns against the Wampanoag.
An elder pilgrim gave a Thanksgiving sermon in 1623, two years after the Wampanoag saved them, thanking god for small pox killing Wampanoag “young men and children… thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth.”
A generation later, in 1676, colonists killed off the Wampanoag in a genocidal land grab — including decapitating sachem Metacom, son of sachem Massasoit. The Wampanoag actually won early campaigns against the Puritans in 1675, attacking more than 50 colonial towns and destroying 13. But the Wampanoag had been plagued by deadly diseases that cut their population more than 90% just before the arrival of the Puritans in 1621.
The spread of deadly diseases that came from continuous contact between Europeans and Native Americans was spurred by the colonialists’ search for gold, slaves, trade and colonies — not romantic exploration. The Puritans, as well as Spanish, French and English occupiers, believed that “god” cleared natives out of the Americas for colonial settlement. Their ideas were supported by a religion that endorsed genocide and slavery.
Modern scientists speculate that frequent bathing, low population densities and few disease-transmitting livestock kept Native Americans healthy. But they generally had no natural or childhood immunity to diseases common in Europe, where dense populations bathed infrequently and were routinely exposed to disease-ridden livestock. Before disease — mainly smallpox — ravaged native communities, Massachusetts natives successfully drove off French colonists in 1606 and English colonists in 1607.
But in 1676 the English regrouped from their early defeats and went on to wipe out the Native Americans. After the colonialists’ victory against Wampanoag they declared a “day of public Thanksgiving for the beginning of revenge upon the enemy.” A generation after sachem Massasoit helped feed the “first” Thanksgiving diners, the occupiers placed his son’s head on display in Plymouth for 24 years.
Patriotism and Racism — The Purpose of Rulers’ Lies
Ruling-class U.S. historians developed the modern Thanksgiving myth in the 1890s to help unify workers around a common, patriotic history. However, U.S. rulers continued the policy of exterminating native peoples for their land after the War of Independence against England. George Washington suggested only one day should be set aside for Thanksgiving instead of rejoicing after each massacre. Later, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday on the same day that he ordered union troops to march against the starving Sioux tribe in Minnesota.
Teaching lies about “generous” Puritans of the past supports modern U.S. rulers’ racist, patriotic lies about democracy. They want us to believe in the good intentions of the government at the same time bosses are using state power to strip away workers’ few gains. But none of the few benefits that U.S. workers gained were graciously handed down to us from the successors of the Puritans. They were all fought for with militant strikes, demonstrations and occasionally guns.
Also, much like the Native Americans cut down by early capitalists, more than one million workers have been killed in Iraq. In Afghanistan uncounted thousands have been killed. Then and now the capitalists’ motive is competition for profit. It is the capitalists — with their genocidal wars — that are the savages, not workers.
As workers in the U.S. try to enjoy the holidays, Progressive Labor Party gives thanks to all those around the world committed to smashing the bosses’ racist, sexist and genocidal capitalist system. We invite all workers to join PLP and fight for communism so that one day future generations can feast on food and drink, free from the capitalists’ exploitation and lies.
Reservations: U.S. Concentration Camps
U.S. Native Americans that survived the bosses’ wars and diseases were forced into concentration camps — also know as reservations — with the worst, least irrigable land. Today, racism against Native Americans remains extreme. Median incomes for the latter and for Alaska Natives are 27% less than the overall U.S. median. According to the Census 2000 Special Report, of those living below the official poverty level in 1999, there were two Native Americans and Alaska Natives to every one person in the general population.
The racist oppression of Native Americans is also evident in health demographics. While the death rate for the total U.S. population has decreased by 17% between 1991 and 2006, the death rate has surged by upwards of 20% for Native American women and has remained flat for Native American men. Almost 12% of the deaths among Native Americans and Alaska Natives are alcohol-related — more than three times the percentage in the general population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 08/08).
A worker on an Arizona reservation reported to CHALLENGE that Homeland Security harasses and attacks workers on reservations, much like police brutalize black and Latino workers in the ghettos. It was only in 2004 that Boston, Massachusetts overturned a law banning Native Americans in the city. The law had been on the books since 1675, the year war was raging between colonists and the Wampanoag.
James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me