Why I Fast On This Day

   Posted by: VoGE   in VoGE Editorial

Thanksgiving Rock at PlymouthPeople are often surprised when they learn that many Native Americans consider the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA to be a national day of mourning and have for nearly 40 years. Some observe the date with a day of quiet remembrance, prayer and even fasting.

I am one.


To gain more understanding of the holiday, you need to know the unvarnished truth about the original Thanksgivings. Most of us grew up being taught to associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen – once… But there’s much more to the story.

The tale actually begins back in 1614 when a band of English explorers attacked the local Patuxet Indians who had welcomed them to Massachusetts Bay. They then sailed home to England with a hold full of Natives bound for slavery. During their visit these explorers also spread smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had been lucky enough to escape the slave ship.


By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian remaining in the village, a man named Squanto, who fortunately knew how to speak English. He taught them to grow corn and to fish (which saved them from starvation that first winter), and he negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.


But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized property, captured strong young Natives for slaves and killed the rest indiscriminately.


The Pequot Nation had not officially agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back against the injustices. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is the Pequot Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their “victory”, the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.


Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained on display for 24 years.

The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War — on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.


This story doesn’t have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one you were told in school where the Indians and Pilgrims all sat down together at the big feast… But we need to learn our true history – the good, the bad, and the ugly – so the mistakes won’t be repeated.

I realize a National Day of Mourning will never be able to compete with a holiday table full of delights served by grandma and that’s ok too. No one is asking you to change the holiday rituals you hold dear, whatever they may be. It’s ALWAYS good to be thankful and come together with loved ones, regardless of the occasion. But, this Thanksgiving, when you gather with your friends and family to Thank Creator for all your many blessings, think also about these things you have just heard here and understand, with a little more compassion, the sad history that this holiday holds for many people.  My people.

Witsatologi nihi – Many Blessings To You!

To learn more about the National Day Of Mourning:


Pilgrim Hall Museum

Ken Savage –  How Thanksgiving Became the National Day of Mourning

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 26th, 2008 at 9:17 am and is filed under VoGE Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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