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The Lies History Tells Part 1: Happy Thanksgiving?

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I am starting a three-week series based on the lies that I was told in grade school. It recently occurred to me that a lot of the history that I was taught was not only wrong, but the truth was skewed for very specific purposes. I can remember learning about the Black Panthers in elementary school and how I was given a negative and demonizing view of Fred Hampton, or how I was made to think the Civil War was a black and white issue about abolishing slavery. I realized that these lies changed my outlook on important figures in history and seemed to always paint America as the hero/peace maker, when many times the leaders of this country were the main perpetrators.

Since I can remember, Thanksgiving has marked the start of the holiday season for me. A time of year that was usually pretty happy in my childhood mind. The idea of being grateful for where I was in life and the things God has given me always made sense.  My family never really had much, but we always knew it could have been worse.

In this age of technology, globalization, and the continuous sharing of information, how do we continue to get history wrong? Is deception more comfortable?

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Thousands of years before Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed the ‘official’ Thanksgiving Day in 1637, North American Indigenous people across the continent had celebrated seasons of Thanksgiving. ’Thanksgiving’ is a very ancient concept to American Indian nations. The big problem with the American Thanksgiving holiday is its false association with Native Americans, the infamous ‘Indians and pilgrims’ myth.

It is good to celebrate Thanksgiving and to be thankful for your blessings.  It is not good to distort history, to falsely portray the origin of this holiday and lie about the truth of its actual inception.

Here are some accurate historical facts about the true origin of this American holiday that were taught to me by one of my mentors, Paul Hill.

‘Thanksgiving‘ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people.  In fact, in October of 1621 when the ‘pilgrim’ survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’  meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out.  Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut.  They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’.

Why is history so imprecise? And what else should I not trust about what I learned in my grade school history classes. Why perpetuate a lie?  Let us face the truths of the past, and give thanks that we are learning to love one another for the rich human diversity we share.


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