I know the history of a master plan; where they used stolen labor to build stolen land
Excerpt from my song, “Guess Who’s Rockin’ the Party”
Harvest feasts are common to almost all cultures, as gratification and the celebration of accomplishments are basic human needs. While the concept of a Thanksgiving observance is completely understandable; the particular holiday in the U.S. is built around a myth used to further propagate the false notion of America being the land of peace, freedom and equality, while ignoring/ hiding a legacy of slaughter and enslavement. Realize that as a Black Indian, (specifically a Black Mashpee Wampanoag) born and raised in a Garveyesque/ Black Power and American Indian Movement environment, you may understand why I question the substance of this holiday beyond being yet another aspect of the on-going distortion of this nation’s history. My mother, West Indian American (family emigrating from Barbados); and my father, Mashpee Wampanoag, born and raised in the town named after our tribe, gave me a firm understanding of the richness of the cultures that I come from.
The myth: a group of so-called Pilgrims; a neo conservative, Christian fundamentalist group had annoyed the folks in England to the point of being sent/ exiled to colonize the wilderness. As legend has it, after a year of guidance from some “seemingly friendly savages” (Fourth grade text book) the surviving colonists held a harvest feast, where they magnanimously included their “Indian friends.” While it is believed that this feast actually took place, the first officially sanctioned Thanksgiving was many years later, honoring the Massachusetts Militia’s victory in slaughtering thousands of Wampanoags, Nipmucs, Pequots, and Narragansetts, selling thousands more into slavery as far away as Bermuda, Europe and North Africa.
From nursery school on, we would make crafts: turkeys made from stuffing paper bags with newspaper for the bodies and the heads, wings and feet made from construction paper and crayons; head bands and feathers, black Pilgrim hats, also made out of construction paper; and lists of the things we’re thankful for. I was able to go through school with only one teacher, Mr. Shaw in second grade, acknowledging the national name of the “Indians/ American Indians” without my prompting. It’s a true mark of successful colonization when a celebratory feast can grow out of a myth created by Indian killers and slave owners; and then you can get the descendants of enslaved Africans and surviving Native Americans to join you in the celebration.
Growing up in New York, Thanksgiving meant dinner at my great-aunts house, (which meant tons of stories, jokes and family exchange time) after watching the Macy’s parade either on television or traveling downtown on a bitter cold day to see the giant balloons live. In Mashpee, it meant dinner at my aunt’s house for my father; while a younger generation, fueled by the Red Power Movement were either holding sunrise ceremonies or joining the annual Day of Mourning protest in Plymouth, MA. Over the years to follow, these activities would become parts of my experiences. In fact, it was at one such protest in 1997 where we were attacked by Massachusetts State Police, one of whom ripped two dreadlocks out of my head for taking a picture of the police brutalizing and elderly man on the ground.
Taking a lesson in acculturation from those spiritual ancestors enslaved in the Spanish Caribbean, who disguised their deities in the cloaks of Catholic Saints: whether it’s around a dinner table, fire circle, ceremony, or a protest taking turns spitting on Plymouth Rock, Thanksgiving, if observed at all, should be a time for families and friends to come together and truly reflect upon our legacy, traditions and history in this country. Call it Thanksgiving, Thanks-taking, Day of Mourning or whatever, what we do with the time and the knowledge that we pass on to the next generations is truly what counts.