Latest update from Into the Wild
Giving thanks is firstly being honest about the past.
In 1970, Massachusetts was preparing to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower.
The 53 surviving men, women and children who had left England in search of “religious freedom” are credited with starting America’s first successful colony, in Plymouth, in 1620. Their voyage to the so-called New World is celebrated by many Americans still as a powerful symbol of the birth of the United States.
But at the last minute, event organisers reportedly realized something was missing.
So they invited a member of the Wampanoag Nation, or People of the First Light – the loose confederation of south-eastern New England tribes whose ancestors were immortalised as the “friendly Indians” who welcomed the Pilgrims and feasted with them at the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621.
Unfortunately for the planners, the person who returned their call was schoolteacher Wamsutta Frank James of the federally recognised Aquinnah Wampanoag, of Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, who drove a red Corvette with a bumper sticker that read: “Custer had it coming”.
James said he would attend, on the condition he told the truth.
That included the fact that the Pilgrims robbed ancestral graves before establishing “America’s home town” in the abandoned Native village of Patuxet, where an estimated 90% had perished from a European-originating pandemic they called the Great Dying.
And that the weakened Wampanoag saved the settlers, 50% of whom died the first winter, by teaching them to farm in return for trade and protection – only to be murdered in battle, sold into slavery, their land stolen, their language wiped out, their children taken for indentured servants and the survivors forced to convert to Christianity, by the very people who triumphed the right to worship.
In James’s draft speech he wrote: “We, the Wampanoag, 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.”
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