Peter Blood and Kelly Gallagher: A call to re-imagine Thanksgiving

  • Susannah Remillard writes on the board Nov. 19 for her sixth grade class at Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in East Harwich, Mass. In a growing number of U.S. schools, students are now learning a more complex Thanksgiving story that involves conflict, injustice and a new focus on the Native people who lived in New England for hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. AP

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Many of us treasure Thanksgiving as a chance to come together with loved ones, to practice gratitude for the blessings in our lives and to give thanks to the source of those blessings. Many also value it as a deeply meaningful spiritual holiday not identified with a particular faith, though it shares themes and family customs with a number of different significant religious holidays. It is often celebrated as a time when people from different faiths, cultures and races can come together as one. Many also value it as a time when families can try to bridge political and other issues that often divide us from each other.

In this year, however, as many of us are looking more deeply than before at systemic racism, we are learning that there is much to this holiday that was hidden from us until now. We are exploring new ways to mark this holiday. We invite you to join with us in this reflection.

We are learning that our traditional understanding of the Thanksgiving story is fundamentally flawed and damaging to the Native peoples whose homelands we now inhabit. It reinforces the idea that this nation is primarily for whites as opposed to Peoples of Color and for Christians as opposed to other faiths.

It hides the history of Native land theft and genocide. It ignores important historical facts, including the reality that one of the first references to the declaration of “a day set apart for public thanksgiving” by the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was in response to the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children in Mystic, Connecticut. This narrative also reinforces the invisibility of Native peoples living today among us and undermines the work they are doing to preserve their cultures and advance their rights and respect.

For all these reasons, for the past 50 years, many Native Americans have marked Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning.

We do not have to abandon Thanksgiving as a holiday or the things we value about it. If, however, we are going to be truthful and move towards the right relationship with the Native peoples living here, we need to re-imagine this holiday and reshape our narrative surrounding it.

■Let us acknowledge that even if the meal shared between Pilgrims and Wampanoag in 1621 brought their peoples together at a time when the Wampanoag showed great kindness towards the English colonists, this was a kindness that was ultimately repaid with treachery, broken promises and genocide.

■ Let us recognize that our first Thanksgivings were declared by Puritan governors in New England who were at least in part thanking God for their victories over Native peoples in our region.

■ Let us remember that this holiday was born in a religious community that believed it had a divine right to invade, conquer, subdue, convert, enslave and (if necessary) exterminate the Indigenous peoples who had been living in this region for over 10,000 years before Europeans arrived here.

■ Let us work to change what our children are taught, not only about Thanksgiving, but about a more accurate history of white people’s relationship with Native peoples.

■ If we celebrate this holiday today, let us do so with a sense of humility and need for forgiveness for what those who conquered these lands did and are still doing to the original inhabitants of this land.

■ And, finally, let us commit ourselves to practice truth, right relationship, healing and justice with these same Native peoples going forward.

Shaykh Mirza Yawar Baig, Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts; Peter Blood, Mt Toby Friends Meeting; Sr. Clare Carter, New England Peace Pagoda; Rev. Kelly Gallagher, United Church of Christ, Southern New England Conference; Rabbi Riqi Kosovske, Beit Ahavah Synagogue; Rabbi David Seidenberg, Prayground Minyan