November 26, 2003

Thanksgiving or Thanks-taking?

The true roots behind Turkey Day

By Ralph de Unamuno

“Thanksgiving” day for many of us will be going home to our families to devour a dinner (which could probably feed an entire village of Mayan refugee of the US/ Mexico “Low-Intensity” war in Chiapas) of turkey (or tamales), stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

The present holiday has been a time-honored tradition since President Abraham Lincoln institutionalized it so that it could be celebrated on the 3rd Thursday of every November. So why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? What is the history behind this most “thankful” day? The origins of Thanksgiving are varied and with close inspection are much more malignant than a big tamale (or turkey) dinner.

For many of us this “holiday” was explained for the first time in elementary school as a celebration of prosperity in the “New World”. I’m sure many of you remember those cherished moments in the Kinder when the teacher would dress you up like Colonists and Indians, y yo con un nopal en la frente often got stuck being a Pilgrim!

The teachers told us the stories of the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims and how they triumphed over the cold winter and failed crops. These colonists were to serve as examples because their “rugged individualism” set the foundation for this nation. This, unfortunately, marks the beginning of the first of many lies and half-truths taught to us in school about how this Western Empire was established.

For our purposes we must go back in time a little further to see that the origins of November twenty-fifth are in fact much older than the foundations of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Subsequently we must go to VIII century Europe.

In the 8th century the Muslims (Moors) conquered Spain, Portugal and France and controlled it for over 700 years. These people threatened European Christians, meaning Western Civilization.

It was not until the late 15th century that in Spain on November 25, 1491, Santiago defeated the last Muslim stronghold in Grenada. On this day King Ferdinand gave thanks to God for this victory and the Pope of Rome declared this day to forever be a day of Thanksgiving for all European Christians.

The Hip-Hop lyricist, Rass Kass, in “Nature of the Threat” states that: “When you celebrate Thanksgiving, what you are actually celebrating is the proclamation of the Pope of Rome, who later in league with Queen Isabella, sent Cardinal Ximenos to Spain to murder any Blacks that resisted Christianity.” These genocidal policies were justified by Pope Nicholas in the Inter Cetera Papal Bull of 1452, which called for the King of Portugal “To invade, search out, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans, whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ”.

These are the true religious and political motivations that formulated the white supremacist mindset that was the foundations for the economic colonization of the Americas and its Native peoples.

Thanksgiving in the United States is a part of this tradition that celebrates the subjugation of non-Western people for colonial purposes. Its roots are more directly connected to the events that occurred in the Northeast in the year 1637, when 700 men, women, and children of the Pequot Tribe, gathered for their “Annual Green Corn Dance” in the area that is now known as Groton, Connecticut.

While they were gathered in this place of meeting, they were surrounded and attacked by mercenaries of the English and Dutch. The Indigenous people were ordered from their ceremonial structures and as they came forth, they were shot down. The rest were burned alive in their homes. The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared a day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 Pequots. Subsequently, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor or President since was to honor that victory, thanking God that the “battle” had been won. The holiday on the 3rd Thursday of November we celebrate is in observation of that massacre and upholds this colonial mentality.

How will you celebrate Thankstaking day?

Many Native People fast on Thankstaking in remembrance of those who were murdered in the process of the Western expansion of Europe in the the Americas. In the Bay Area, Indigenous peoples from across the continent have gathered for many years to observe the day with a sunrise ceremony, organized by the International Indian Treaty Council on Alcatraz Island.

Starting at 4:30 AM, thousands of people take ferries from Pier 39 to the Island to participate in this ceremony; this is done to remember our ancestors and to reaffirm the ongoing struggles to resist Western colonization. Alcatraz is maybe a little far, and for others, missing dinner with the family is not an option.

Well, let’s look at what that typical dinner contains: Turkey (or tamales), Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries (sauce), and Pumpkins (pie), are all foods that were found only in the Americas prior to 1492. Thankstaking dinner is a collection of foods indigenous to the Americas.

Europe, Africa, and Asia would have had a hard time prospering without the nutrition they derived from the “New World”.

This Thankstaking I hope you all take time to remember our ancestors, all the contributions that our people from Alaska to the tip of Tierra del Fuego have given the world, for nuestra voluntad to resist colonization, and for our ability to persevere with dignity — despite 511 years of colonization.

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