Monday, November 23, 2015

Who were the Thanksgiving Indians?

Though very few people have ever heard of the Wampanoag Tribe, they are the Native people who were living near Plymouth rock and  welcomed the Pilgrims and fed them a nice meal some four hundred years ago.  Those are my people. So, my great-grandmother told me when I was five and sat in her kitchen with my hands folded on her neat white and red checkered table cloth.  When I had problems pronouncing the name (I had a lisp), she simply said, "We are the Thanksgiving Indians." She also told me we were the people of the Sun, of the East.  She went on to say that many of our people died after the coming of the Europeans.  Actually, fifty-thousand died of plague.  What disease did not finish off, King Philip's War did.  That was the point when the People of the Wampanoag Confederacy had enough of the encroaching foreigners and decided to fight back.  They were slaughtered to the man.

If you think I want you to spit out the turkey you have so happily ingested on this Holiday in the name of my fallen ancestors,  that's okay, you don't have to.  It is true for many years, even as a little one, I harbored deep rage at the idea that my relatives fed and nurtured their would-be murderers and that their kindness came back to bite them.  I thought that if they had just let them starve to death, then they might have gone away.  Maybe my people would still have their land and be at peace. Perhaps all the Africans that were needed to make this land great and habitable would not have been dragged from home and family and brought here to be worked to death, but I am not a little girl anymore.  I know now that even if the Wamponoag  who had walked out of those woods with food in arm, had turned on the Pilgrims on that day instead of feeding them, the Europeans would have sent another group and another group.  Europe had a lot of people to get rid of and eventually one group would have made a foothold. It is interesting though that a group of people fleeing persecution in Europe would turn around and persecute others in the same vicious manner and for the same reason of difference. It seems as if they only wanted tolerance for themselves and not everyone, which is selfish, ignorant and brutal. It makes you think they deserved to suffer and should have suffered more until they learned kindness and generosity.

One could be angry at such people, but being angry does nothing but make the angry person miserable. It does not hurt the offender in any way especially since the Pilgrims died long ago. Being angry would only make my life worse. So, instead of being angry, now I think about the humanity of my ancestors. I know the way European-Americans describe Native people as being savage, but so are most European-Americans when faced with an intruder in their home. That is why we have guns and "a stand your ground rule." Natives have also been described as foolish, easily tricked and manipulated, but I have found that most good people are easily tricked when they have no deceit in them.  I am glad that when my ancestors were faced with the sight of people starving to death in the snow, they bravely put aside their prejudices and offered these other human beings sustenance.  They looked beyond the difference in skin color, in culture, and saw simply other hungry human beings.  I would not for the world that they had done differently. Yes, even though they died by the thousands because of their kindness. I was taught to believe in reincarnation. The soul does not die. My people either went on to another plane of existence because of their goodness (or they were reborn elsewhere We need more good people in this country.)

 I would rather be related to such kind, openhearted people than butchers who could not see the humanity in another person because of the color of their skin and felt justified in treating them inhumanly.  I would have nothing to be proud of if the Wamponoag had sat in fear of the future and allowed other people to starve. Their actions were not foolish but showed a profound goodness that I can only aspire to.  It is true that I wish the racist Pilgrims had been worthy or capable of understanding this superior gift and that they had acted in kind.  I wish as a nation we were all capable of truly living up to the sacrifice of the moment and seeing beyond the skin to the soul within.  Thanksgiving  commemorates the moment when two peoples met and one rose above their fears of difference to help others in need.

On this Thanksgiving, I hope that each of us remembers the Wamponoag who were described by the Pilgrims as an especially tall and handsome people, intelligent and kind.  Without their goodness, we all would not be here today.  I hope one day, this great nation can follow their example instead of the one of fear and hatred the Pilgrims brought with them from across the sea.  I hope one day we will be as brave, as kind, as  good and openhearted as the Wampanoag were. My ancestors would have adjured me to try and change the world with my goodness, yet not allow the darkness in the world to change me. On this day, as a Wampanoag descendant, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving as I know my ancestors would have wanted me to.