Though Thanksgiving as a holiday isn’t a religious holy day, giving thanks is a spiritual and sacred practice. Where the holiday should intersect with faith and religion is in the naming and truth telling that is necessary to bring reconciliation and healing to ourselves and this nation. The picture above is an idyllic scene typical of our whitewashed retelling of an historic event. Even the artist has placed the white settlers in a position of power, serving the native Indians.
"Native perspectives are especially important to include when [speaking of] the history of the 'First Thanksgiving.' Giving thanks is a longstanding and central tradition among most Native groups that is still practiced today. The First Thanksgiving is often portrayed as a friendly harvest festival where Pilgrims and generic, nameless “Indians” came together to eat and give thanks. In reality, the assembly of the Wampanoag Peoples and the English settlers in 1621 had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and a pursuit of peace. The Wampanoag Peoples had a long political history dealing with other Native Nations before the English arrived. The Wampanoag shared their land, food, and knowledge of the environment with the English. Without help from the Wampanoag, the English would not have had the successful harvest that led to the First Thanksgiving. However, cooperation was short lived, as the English continued to attack and encroach upon Wampanoag lands in spite of their agreements. Interactions with Europeans and Americans brought accelerated and often devastating changes to American Indian cultures. … Just as they were before the English arrived, Native Americans like the Wampanoag Peoples are dynamic and active participants in all aspects of society.” [taken from the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Knowledge 360° Education Initiative]
Our European ancestors did not discover an uninhabited land and settle it, they came to a land of many native peoples and nations and took their lands and cultures from them through physical, emotional, and spiritual violence. As a culture we continue to deny and have yet to take adequate actions to restore ourselves and native peoples to right relationship.
I’m proud that we in Cleveland are finally able to support our baseball team fully now that they are appropriately named the Cleveland Guardians. Having even if begrudgingly for some, given up the name Cleveland Indians. The name and logos were insensitive at best to the indigenous people of this land, neither elevating nor honoring their culture, rather furthering the abuse heaped upon them since our forefathers and mothers came to these shores.
As people of faith, we have a responsibility to stop whitewashing our history and to repent of our ancestor’s sins. Only with truth telling and repentance can God truly work through us to lead us to a healthier and prosperous nation. A nation built on the values and vision we profess, where all people are welcome and live in peace, with equity and justice. A nation where we are greater because of our diversity, and ever enriched by the wisdom and gifts of each culture and person. A nation where all can worship God and practice their faith without fear of violence and condemnation.
This Thanksgiving Day, may we give thanks for the many blessings we all too often take for granted and with honest, open, truthful, hearts and minds live into a healthier and brighter tomorrow.