For Native Americans, there’s less to be thankful for

By Dwight Hobbes
Contributing Writer

The first Thanksgiving Day feast is generally believed to have taken place in 1621 at Plymouth Colony in an area that eventually would become the state of Massachusetts. It was their second winter away from England, and the Pilgrims were not in good shape.

Accounts vary: Some historical sources say they were barely subsisting on fish, mainly cod, that they got out of the bay. Others say they were starving to death. It’s agreed, though, that these White folk were having a miserable time trying to make it through the winter and might well have perished without help from Natives to the land, some 90 members of the Wampanoag nation.

The newly-discovered potato was considered by many Europeans to be poisonous. But the feast did include fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison and plums. No turkey, no cranberry sauce, no pumpkin pies — the Pilgrims had gone through all the flour.

These British refugees went on, of course, to not only survive that year, but over time to flourish. And we acknowledge that feast as an occasion of appreciation for what the Indians did, although the aftermath of that interaction has not exactly worked out well for Native descendants, even if you count the advent of casinos.

Idle as the question may be in raising what now is a moot point, this time of year it surely occurs to some minds to wonder, if today’s Native Americans had it to do all over again, should they have rescued the Pilgrims or should they have left well enough alone. The question is posed here to a handful of interviewees, some Native, some White.

Asked whether her ancestors should’ve helped out, Juanita Blackhawk of Park Rapids promptly responds, “Hell, no. Why teach people how to survive so they can come back within a year and wipe out your whole tribe?”

She takes a moment to reflect, then adds, “Considering the fact that the Pilgrims would have died if not for the tribes already here, they were taught what plants to eat, what to hunt, what to plant, what would grow. When the feast was prepared, the warriors were leery and arrived with weapons.

Personally I think they should have used those weapons, because approximately a year later the Pilgrims raided the tribal village, killing men, women, children and elders. Until no one was left. Is that how you repay kindness?

”The Pilgrims came to this country to escape oppression in their own country only to inflict the same treatment to the original inhabitants of this land,” Blackhawk continues. “And this continues today: oppression, [prejudice], assimilation, degradation, the list goes on and on. The tribes were more civilized, more compassionate, more spiritual than the Pilgrims.

“They shared their knowledge, their homeland, and were killed for it.

The Pilgrims saw something they wanted, and they took it by force. Not much has changed since. Tribes are still being forced off their homelands. The divide-and-conquer attitude of the settlers continues today. If the tribes could band together, they would have a stronger voice.”

Not an altogether surprising response. Marcie Rendon, also Native, living in Minneapolis, adds, tongue-in-cheek, “Well, I for one would have definitely had tougher immigration policies.” She continues, “When people are struggling, even behaving ignorantly, there is a pull in just about any human who hasn’t been too badly damaged to want to be of help. Sometimes the lesson is learned too late that some folks just don’t want real help, or have been so badly damaged they have lost their own ability to be truly human/humane.”

Steve Kaplan, White and a resident of St. Paul, answers by email from a hotel room in Hoi An, Vietnam: “I’m unsure if I can represent either men or Caucasians, both of which groups have at various times tried to disown me; still, here goes. But of course the Indians should have fed the Pilgrims.

It’s consistent with their generous nature and basic sweetness.

“The problem wasn’t with the Indians, it was with the Pilgrims.

Who knew, among the tribes, that they were hugging a viper to their breast?” says Kaplan.

Minneapolis White resident Chris Shillock offers, “Several years ago, about this time of year, I was chatting with the barista in a coffeehouse downtown.

An African came in, and she asked him whether they celebrate Thanksgiving in Africa. I pointed out that Africans had had several centuries of experience with Europeans and were not about to facilitate their invasion.”

Rachael Rendon is Marcie’s 20-something daughter and Juanita’s niece.

She takes a perspective that sweeps past that first populace from across the waves, basically adopting the outlook that, if it hadn’t been one wave of White folk fouling over everyone in their wake, it would have been another.

Should they have helped them? “Yes,” she flatly states.

“Yes. It was not just the Pilgrims who were responsible for the genocide.” Even today, she says, it is not just “the White Man” who is responsible.

“We have generations of people who were taught that they must kill off the Indigenous. It is ingrained into their very souls that as long as the Indigenous Peoples are still fighting, still surviving, then America can never truly exist. Many are still in denial and believe that a war was waged.

A war was never waged. A massive campaign of genocide was and still is in effect.

This isn’t war, but an entire people fighting to just survive.”

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to