November 2011 Archives

The Real Thanksgiving

Quoted from: The Hidden History of Massachusetts

Much of America's understanding of the early relationship between the Indian and the European is conveyed through the story of Thanksgiving. Proclaimed a holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, this fairy tale of a feast was allowed to exist in the American imagination pretty much untouched until 1970, the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. That is when Frank B. James, president of the Federated Eastern Indian League, prepared a speech for a Plymouth banquet that exposed the Pilgrims for having committed, among other crimes, the robbery of the graves of the Wampanoags. He wrote:
"We welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people."
But white Massachusetts officials told him he could not deliver such a speech and offered to write him another. Instead, James declined to speak, and on Thanksgiving Day hundreds of Indians from around the country came to protest. It was the first National Day of Mourning, a day to mark the losses Native Americans suffered as the early settlers prospered. This true story of "Thanksgiving" is what whites did not want Mr. James to tell.
What Really Happened in Plymouth in 1621?
According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October, but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became known as "Thanksgiving," the Pilgrims never called it that. And amidst the imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony is some of the most terrifying bloodshed in New World history.
The Pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural expertise of the Indians had produced twenty acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Indians often brought food to the Pilgrims, who came from England ridiculously unprepared to survive and hence relied almost exclusively on handouts from the overly generous Indians-thus making the Pilgrims the western hemisphere's first class of welfare recipients. The Pilgrims invited the Indian sachem Massasoit to their feast, and it was Massasoit, engaging in the tribal tradition of equal sharing, who then invited ninety or more of his Indian brothers and sisters-to the annoyance of the 50 or so ungrateful Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served; they likely ate duck or geese and the venison from the 5 deer brought by Massasoit. In fact, most, if notall, of the food was most likely brought and prepared by the Indians, whose 10,000-year familiarity with the cuisine of the region had kept the whites alive up to that point.
The Pilgrims wore no black hats or buckled shoes-these were the silly inventions of artists hundreds of years since that time. These lower-class Englishmen wore brightly colored clothing, with one of their church leaders recording among his possessions "1 paire of greene drawers." Contrary to the fabricated lore of storytellers generations since, no Pilgrims prayed at the meal, and the supposed good cheer and fellowship must have dissipated quickly once the Pilgrims brandished their weaponry in a primitive display of intimidation. What's more, the Pilgrims consumed a good deal of home brew. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day, which they preferred even to water. This daily inebriation led their governor, William Bradford, to comment on his people's "notorious sin," which included their "drunkenness and uncleanliness" and rampant "sodomy"...
The Pilgrims of Plymouth, The Original Scalpers
Contrary to popular mythology the Pilgrims were no friends to the local Indians. They were engaged in a ruthless war of extermination against their hosts, even as they falsely posed as friends. Just days before the alleged Thanksgiving love-fest, a company of Pilgrims led by Myles Standish actively sought to chop off the head of a local chief. They deliberately caused a rivalry between two friendly Indians, pitting one against the other in an attempt to obtain "better intelligence and make them both more diligent." An 11-foot-high wall was erected around the entire settlement for the purpose of keeping the Indians out.
Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder. The Pilgrims further advertised their evil intentions and white racial hostility, when they mounted five cannons on a hill around their settlement, constructed a platform for artillery, and then organized their soldiers into four companies-all in preparation for the military destruction of their friends the Indians.
Pilgrim Myles Standish eventually got his bloody prize. He went to the Indians, pretended to be a trader, then beheaded an Indian man named Wituwamat. He brought the head to Plymouth, where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years, according to Gary B. Nash, "as a symbol of white power." Standish had the Indian man's young brother hanged from the rafters for good measure. From that time on, the whites were known to the Indians of Massachusetts by the name "Wotowquenange," which in their tongue meant cutthroats and stabbers.
Who Were the "Savages"?
The myth of the fierce, ruthless Indian savage lusting after the blood of innocent Europeans must be vigorously dispelled at this point. In actuality, the historical record shows that the very opposite was true.
Once the European settlements stabilized, the whites turned on their hosts in a brutal way. The once amicable relationship was breeched again and again by the whites, who lusted over the riches of Indian land. A combination of the Pilgrims' demonization of the Indians, the concocted mythology of Eurocentric historians, and standard Hollywood propaganda has served to paint the gentle Indian as a tomahawk-swinging savage endlessly on the warpath, lusting for the blood of the God-fearing whites.
But the Pilgrims' own testimony obliterates that fallacy. The Indians engaged each other in military contests from time to time, but the causes of "war," the methods, and the resulting damage differed profoundly from the European variety:
o Indian "wars" were largely symbolic and were about honor, not about territory or extermination.
o "Wars" were fought as domestic correction for a specific act and were ended when correction was achieved. Such action might better be described as internal policing. The conquest or destruction of whole territories was a European concept.
o Indian "wars" were often engaged in by family groups, not by whole tribal groups, and would involve only the family members.
o A lengthy negotiation was engaged in between the aggrieved parties before escalation to physical confrontation would be sanctioned. Surprise attacks were unknown to the Indians.
o It was regarded as evidence of bravery for a man to go into "battle" carrying no weapon that would do any harm at a distance-not even bows and arrows. The bravest act in war in some Indian cultures was to touch their adversary and escape before he could do physical harm.
o The targeting of non-combatants like women, children, and the elderly was never contemplated. Indians expressed shock and repugnance when the Europeans told, and then showed, them that they considered women and children fair game in their style of warfare.
o A major Indian "war" might end with less than a dozen casualties on both sides. Often, when the arrows had been expended the "war" would be halted. The European practice of wiping out whole nations in bloody massacres was incomprehensible to the Indian.
According to one scholar, "The most notable feature of Indian warfare was its relative innocuity." European observers of Indian wars often expressed surprise at how little harm they actually inflicted. "Their wars are far less bloody and devouring than the cruel wars of Europe," commented settler Roger Williams in 1643. Even Puritan warmonger and professional soldier Capt. John Mason scoffed at Indian warfare: "[Their] feeble manner...did hardly deserve the name of fighting." Fellow warmonger John Underhill spoke of the Narragansetts, after having spent a day "burning and spoiling" their country: "no Indians would come near us, but run from us, as the deer from the dogs." He concluded that the Indians might fight seven years and not kill seven men. Their fighting style, he wrote, "is more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies."
All this describes a people for whom war is a deeply regrettable last resort. An agrarian people, the American Indians had devised a civilization that provided dozens of options all designed to avoid conflict--the very opposite of Europeans, for whom all-out war, a ferocious bloodlust, and systematic genocide are their apparent life force. Thomas Jefferson--who himself advocated the physical extermination of the American Indian--said of Europe, "They [Europeans] are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of labor, property and lives of their people."
Puritan Holocaust
By the mid 1630s, a new group of 700 even holier Europeans calling themselves Puritans had arrived on 11 ships and settled in Boston-which only served to accelerate the brutality against the Indians.
In one incident around 1637, a force of whites trapped some seven hundred Pequot Indians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, near the mouth of the Mystic River. Englishman John Mason attacked the Indian camp with "fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk." Only a handful escaped and few prisoners were taken-to the apparent delight of the Europeans:
To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God.
This event marked the first actual Thanksgiving. In just 10 years 12,000 whites had invaded New England, and as their numbers grew they pressed for all-out extermination of the Indian. Euro-diseases had reduced the population of the Massachusett nation from over 24,000 to less than 750; meanwhile, the number of European settlers in Massachusetts rose to more than 20,000 by 1646.
By 1675, the Massachusetts Englishmen were in a full-scale war with the great Indian chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. Renamed "King Philip" by the white man, Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyle and culture of his people as European-imposed laws and values engulfed them.
In 1671, the white man had ordered Metacomet to come to Plymouth to enforce upon him a new treaty, which included the humiliating rule that he could no longer sell his own land without prior approval from whites. They also demanded that he turn in his community's firearms. Marked for extermination by the merciless power of a distant king and his ruthless subjects, Metacomet retaliated in 1675 with raids on several isolated frontier towns. Eventually, the Indians attacked 52 of the 90 New England towns, destroying 13 of them. The Englishmen ultimately regrouped, and after much bloodletting defeated the great Indian nation, just half a century after their arrival on Massachusetts soil. Historian Douglas Edward Leach describes the bitter end:
The ruthless executions, the cruel sentences...were all aimed at the same goal-unchallengeable white supremacy in southern New England. That the program succeeded is convincingly demonstrated by the almost complete docility of the local native ever since.
When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and murdered Metacomet in 1676, his body was quartered and parts were "left for the wolves." The great Indian chief's hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouth, where it was set upon a pole on the real first "day of public Thanksgiving for the beginning of revenge upon the enemy." Metacomet's nine-year-old son was destined for execution because, the whites reasoned, the offspring of the devil must pay for the sins of their father. The child was instead shipped to the Caribbean to spend his life in slavery.
As the Holocaust continued, several official Thanksgiving Days were proclaimed. Governor Joseph Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving"-not in celebration of the brotherhood of man-but for [God's] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors...In defeating and disappointing... the Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands...
Just two years later one could reap a ££50 reward in Massachusetts for the scalp of an Indian-demonstrating that the practice of scalping was a European tradition. According to one scholar, "Hunting redskins became...a popular sport in New England, especially since prisoners were worth good money..."

Below is a letter written by a direct descendant of Myles Standish after he read The Real Thanksgiving:

Dear Dr. Paul:
Thank you for posting that article about the Real Thanksgiving, and the role of Myles Standish in early Plymouth. I am a descendent of Standish and it has been my goal to understand him and the events concerning him in a deeper way. I want to know ALL the history. I've read the WASP approved version and it's good to see the other versions coming to light.
I work very closely with my ancestors and live my life to redeem their blood. A better knowing of the results of their actions helps in two ways; it clears the propaganda and glamour from my eyes and it inspires me to be a better person in my daily decisions and living. It also teaches me history. Which I wasn't very good at in high school. Now it has a whole new meaning as I think about my ancestors living in those times and places. My nieces and nephews will learn the truth from me. And their children too.
For what its worth, I apologise for my grandfathers actions. Indeed all my ancestors.
Respectfully and sincerely,
Clarence Standish, IV

November 3, 2011


Spirit Lake Tribal Council

Spirit Lake Nation

Fort Totten, ND 58335


Honorable Spirit Lake Tribal Councilmembers,


Dakotas are pretty much a live and let live people. Although we had serious concerns when you granted unlimited, unsupervised authority to the Committee for Understanding Respect we didn't say much. Why? Because we knew the Committee had already lost their fight to keep the name in the ND Supreme court. And Standing Rock's refusal to let SBHE use our name pretty much ended our involvement in the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo fight.  We were content to let the SBHE and ND legislature fight over it.


However, the actions taken by the Committee since your decision to give them unlimited authority to raise and spend money on our behalf has been extreme and does not accurately reflect our culture, history and traditions of our tribe.


As a result we (tribal member) are taking around a petition that we hope will result in the people invoking the authority you have bestowed on the Committee.  We are well on the way to collecting the required number of signatures needed to force a referendum on the issue.


However, we would prefer not to have the tribe go through a very costly, very public referendum that will promote vicious infighting among tribal members.  This in turn will surely bring more shame and ridicule on our tribe.


Therefore, we respectfully request you (tribal council) take it upon your selves to rescind the resolution that gave the Committee unlimited authority. This would bring about an immediate resolution to this crisis. 


We have very good reasons for making this request. Reasons that were not made public before. But, now due to the circumstances, we are forced to air them:


1.     Representatives of the tribe in a ten million dollar lawsuit should have exemplary character:   At least two members of the Committee have been involved and/or convicted of stealing money from Spirit Lake tribe or, from the US government. At least one has served prison time. Another close supporter and speaker for the committee at public event have also been convicted of a crime regarding tribal funds.

2.     The tribal council is duly elected to represent us in local, state and federal issues. One of the qualifications to become a tribal council member is not to have been convicted of a felony. 

3.     How do we know the committee is not misusing funds that they have raised thus far?  With a history of fiscal irresponsibly by several of its member this is a real and grave concern among us tribal members. If some funds they raised are misappropriated it will be our tribe that will have to pay them back.

4.     The Committee appeared to take the authority to say and do whatever they want.  This arrogance has now been directed towards fellow tribal member. Tribal members were denied their rights to speak at press conference called by the Committee and tribal council. One person close to the committee accused a tribal member who spoke at the conference as "half breed".

5.     One member of the committee was not raised on the reservation.  He moved here approximately 15 years ago. He does not know the history of our tribe. Therefore, he is disingenuous when he speaks about our culture and history.  He does not speak for our ancestors. And he keeps repeating we "gave" UND the name as a gift. This is an outright falsehood. We who were born and raised here on Spirit Lake know our parents and grand parents never gave UND anything.

6.     NCAA's policies are not an attack on our culture or our way of life. We were here long before NCAA and we will be here long after NCAA.

7.     Both UND/SBHE have said repeatedly they want to retire the name. Why are we forcing something on them they no longer want? That is not the Dakota way.

8.     As a tribe, we don't even call our self "Sioux" anymore. In 1996 there was a referendum in which the people voted to change our name from the Devils Lake Sioux Indian Reservations to Spirit Lake Nation.

9.     We respect the Committee's dedication to keeping the name, but they do not have to drag the entire tribal membership into their fight.


To use the Committee's logic that we gave our name as a gift to UND, let me close with this story that demonstrates how foolish carrying on the fight over a logo has become:


Dear Committee for Understanding and Respect,

Years ago your people generously gave me a jacket; it was fashionable then and I thanked you for it. I wore it many times, but it is now worn out and stained. Moreover, times have changed, and it is no longer fashionable. You know, not everyone liked the jacket. I was often denigrated and ridiculed when I wore it. I realize you take pride in that jacket and that some of you felt honored when I wore it, but please understand I am not going to wear it any longer. I'm sorry if some of you feel hurt and angry with this, but really, it is my jacket, it is my choice, and you have no say in what I wear.

What? You've hired lawyers to try to make me wear that jacket! You got to be kidding! What judge would concede to wearing an outdated, outmoded jacket that even he will find offensive? Save your money! Thank you.





Erich Longie,

(On behalf of Spirit Lake tribal members who are opposed to the Committee for understanding and Respect)


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