Happy Thanks-Taking Day, America
Turkeys at the White House, 2017: A great American Thanksgiving tradition continues
Every year on this day, the fourth Thursday of November, people all over the United States celebrate an almost sacred national holiday called Thanksgiving Day. It is a day when American families from all walks of life across the nation take time out of their busy lives to gather together and celebrate all that they have to be thankful for in life.
Turkey is the main dish served at these sumptuous Thanksgiving Day feasts, evoking long-distant memories dating back to the year 1621, when the early European settlers in the U.S. sat down together with members of the indigenous First Nations and made peace and shared the bountiful harvest of the land.
That is the myth of Thanksgiving Day, anyway, that most citizens of the U.S. (myself included) were raised on from childhood. But as many of us also know today, it is only a myth. The truth behind Thanksgiving Day — which many Native Americans today more accurately call Thanks-Taking Day — is something else entirely.
What do Americans have to be thankful for on this day in 2017, and how thankful are they? Let me count the ways.
The early European immigrants to what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States were so thankful to the indigenous people for helping them to survive the harsh winters and conditions of starvation in the New World that they later decided to steal their ancestral lands and kill them in return. Governor John Winthrop, a British Puritan lawyer and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, declared war on the Pequot tribe in 1636 — just 15 years after the so-called First Thanksgiving celebration — killing or enslaving hundreds of local indigenous people to the point of near-extinction. That was just the European Christian way of saying thanks, that’s all.
That bloody two-year war kicked off other conflicts and bad relations between the Europeans and indigenous people in the many years that followed. And what the wars waged by the European settlers didn’t accomplish, the diseases and illnesses that the Europeans brought with them and spread to the local indigenous populace — both intentionally and unintentionally — achieved most efficiently, cutting down sharply the numbers of First Nations tribes who had lived there for millennia.
Fast-forward a couple hundred years to the early 1800s, and we find the United States government expressing even more thanks to what it called the “Indians” of North America for all their help. Andrew Jackson, as a U.S. army colonel in the early 1810s, led an especially bloody series of battles against Native tribes, killing hundreds of people off at a time.
But Jackson was no slouch as the seventh U.S. president either. During his two terms in office in the White House during the 1820s and 1830s, Jackson oversaw the government’s “Indian removal” policies of transferring Native populations in the eastern U.S. to government-owned territory west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of First Nations people from various tribes died from exposure, starvation and disease along the way. This “Trail of Tears”, as the Native Americans of that time knew it (and still do today), was nothing to be thankful for.
During the U.S. Civil War, president Abraham Lincoln was so thankful that he issued a “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” in October 1863 that officially made Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in the USA from then on. He created the holiday as “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens” in a time of war that was dividing the country. Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (which gives all credit to a Christian God and none at all to Native Americans) came nine months after his more famous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved people of African descent in the United States. Obviously, Lincoln was a dude who was into proclaiming things.
And those are just a few of the ways that U.S. citizens over time have expressed their thanks to the First Nations peoples. Upward of 50 million indigenous people of various tribes and nations throughout the Americas existed around the time that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492; today a fraction of that number have survived.
What were once pristine lands with abundant wildlife and natural food sources spanning coast to coast across the USA are today one big, continuous cesspool. Americans have been so thankful for their prosperity as a nation that they have hunted down the wildlife for sport, and polluted and utterly ruined the very places where they live. Or, as one Native American auntie I heard aptly put it during a public forum in Arcata, California in the early 2000s: “We’re shittin’ in our own nest”. She was right. And under the new environmental policies of U.S. president Trump, things are going to get much worse very quickly.
Speaking of which, one aspect of Thanksgiving in the United States — the raising of 300 million turkeys, the ubiquitous symbols of Thanksgiving, under horrific conditions in factory farms just for slaughter every year — is a $4 billion industry in itself. An estimated 45 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving each year in the USA, and 22 million more are butchered for Christmas in December. About 10 percent of all dead turkeys in the U.S. are shipped for consumption to people in other countries, who are no doubt thankful that they too can share in this great American pastime.
And so, like clockwork, millions of Americans celebrate this nearly religious day by gathering together to stuff themselves with food and drink, make merry and watch American football on television, without knowing or caring just how this day has come about and the very violent history behind it. “Lord, we thank thee for this day” goes the mantra over American dinner tables across the USA this Thanksgiving evening, while the rest of Planet Earth literally burns.
But among all this darkness, there may be one slim hope for tomorrow: Since there is already a jive-turkey camped out in the White House in Washington DC, there would be no need for another such bird to be sacrificed for America’s First Family on the national Thanksgiving Day holidays. The only question remaining, then, would be how long it takes all of us to organize and carve up the jive-turkey’s own political career over the next four years into bite-size bits and feed lots of poor, needy people in the process, thereby making America even greater again. Now that would be something to be thankful for.
Happy Thanks-Taking Day 2017, America. Enjoy what’s left of the bountiful harvest while it lasts.