Theological thoughts on Thanksgiving from a Native perspective.

*I have asked one of my very best friends to write something in regards to Thanksgiving for my blog. This space is for open minds and open hands and I hope this blog is received in that way. Emily is an incredible woman who has shaped my faith in tremendous ways. Please take the time to read the words written by her below.*

“The first Thanksgiving Day did occur in the year 1637, but it was nothing like our Thanksgiving today. On that day the Massachusetts Colony Governor, John Winthrop, proclaimed such a “Thanksgiving” to celebrate the safe return of a band of heavily armed hunters, all colonial volunteers. They had just returned from their journey to what is now Mystic, Connecticut where they massacred 700 Pequot Indians. Seven hundred Indians – men, women and children – all murdered…This day is still remembered today, 373 years later. No, it’s been long forgotten by white people, by European Christians…A group calling themselves the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for what they say is a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember the long gone Pequot…
They do not call it Thanksgiving.
There is no football game afterward.”   
– The Huffington Post, 2011

(It should be noted that these colonial volunteers were actually puritans, not pilgrims, and the reason they set out in the early morning of May 26th was not to seek amiable relations among Native peoples; it was for the forced conversion to Christianity, as they knew it. It should also be noted that these seven hundred *Native Americans* laid down their defenses, and accepted. Their greeting into this new religion was massacare. This day also happened to be on the Pequot’s Green Corn Festival, in other words, their Day of Thanksgiving.)

How do I, a woman of Chippewa descent, interact with a holiday that has wrongly been painted as the end of our war with the White Man? How do I in unexplained terms share the history briefly with the person who asks: How do you feel about this? Moreover, how do I incorporate my living, breathing faith in Jesus into a nationally recognized day that really was only the beginning of harassment, abuse and mistreatment of my people? May you grant me the space and vulnerability to explain.

Firstly, let’s discuss what Thanksgiving is not. Thanksgiving is not the celebration of two heritages coming together. Though there were eager interactions at one point, the majority of Native Americans lived alongside re-settled Europeans for the sake of better protecting their land and keeping further inquiries about it at bay. The truth is – there were feasts together, where no one died and conversation was light. However, intent is almost always more important than action and it is clear, according to history and experience, the intent of Europeans settling on the shores of the United States from the time period of 1492-1900 was to take and colonize. The friendly relations, the regular trading, the invitation to dinner… They were all means to an end.
So, you have to understand when a person of Native descent hears ‘Thanksgiving’, they are really hearing: broken treaties, manipulated relationships, forgotten history and social exclusion (such as, marginalization). They were asked then forced to learn a language that was not their own, adapt to a dress they did not know and express spirituality in a way they did not understand, for the only purpose of colonists to feel comfortable and superior (in a place that was not theirs to begin with). These small yet significant acts of rape [to seize and take away by force] eventually led to boarding schools where children could not know the inheritance that was theirs to hand down. Colonization led to wars that could not be won and families moving across country simply because someone else wanted their land [see, Trail of Tears]. Now, the reality of all those things are buried under ‘Indian and Pilgrim’ dress-up days at elementary and your high school social studies class skipping over hundreds of years of history, to their convenience. To say the least, the day of Thanksgiving, for Native Peoples, is painful, deep and real.

Selah, to pause. Ok, keep reading.

Secondly, there is freedom to make this day worthy, notable and hopeful. While the above paragraphs are true, truer than most would admit, the presence of Creator in our story is true, too. Let me be the first to say, he was not pleased when these zhaagnaash (“white man”) tagged his name to their atrocities. He was not in their corner, cheering them on. Creator’s Son came and experienced ridicule, mockery and harassment; Jesus understands injustice. He gets being ripped from his culture of kingdom and being questioned by foreigners. He is not without compassion or sympathy when it comes to our losses; he is also not standing by idle.
The White Man’s god may push you around, disrespect your behaviors and leave you for dead. Jesus will not. The White Man’s god may solicit murders on behalf of innocent men, women and children. Jesus could not. The White Man’s god may make promises with the intent purpose of not keeping them. Jesus does not. Here is my point: Jesus is not the White Man’s god. Our greatest gift as believers of the Jesus way is the gift of the Great Spirit. And with the Great Spirit, there is hope. There is an assurance that we are not alone, that our voices do not go unheard and that redemption (the buying back of something previously sold) is possible.

Finally, there is a way forward. There is a way to acknowledge the truth of history and the reality of hope in Jesus. Here it is: We all live in tension. Every single human lives in a tension. Of joy and grief, or of loss and gain. Of expectancy and disappointment, or of provision and of lack. And let me tell you something: It’s not surprising to God. He – Creator God, Everlasting Counselor, Prince of Peace, Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit – is not afraid to dwell there. In fact, often times, he makes his home right there in the middle of it. In the loss, Creator is bringing light. In pain, Creator is bringing perspective. In real anger over injustice, Creator creatively strategizes to bring unity, forgiveness and a better way. May we not miss him in the tensions. May we not overlook, or ignore the uncomfortable and hard. It is there, in those places, we will confess, and we will grow.  

This Thanksgiving, take time to consider what you’re celebrating + why. Take time to praise a Chief who fights on your behalf and is making all things new.

emilyselfie
Emily is on a journey of expressing her ethnic identify in faith and is passionate about sharing her experience with any who would have an ear to listen. She loves living in Atlanta, Georgia where she lives among refugees and cares for babies. In her free time, she likes weekend trips to New York City and a good cup of tea. Any inquires, encouragements or questions you may have, feel free to contact her: emnaganashe@gmail.com or follow her on instagram @emnaganashe