We've just had Thanksgiving and that means that there's a lot of stuff circulating about Thanksgiving as a day that glorifies or glosses over violence against Native Americans. A few years ago I saw one popular blogger compare Thanksgiving activities to imagining that Nazis and Jews sat down and had dinner together. (Actually, there was a movie that was somewhat along that theme. It was called Schindler's List. It is based on a true story and it stands an artistic memorial to the people whose lives were senselessly lost in the Holocaust and those who risked so much to save their fellowmen.)
The fact of the matter is that the first Thanksgiving was somewhat accidental. Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, heard gunshots and was concerned that the English settlers might be preparing for an attack. He sent some of his men to investigate, and when they found out that the settlers were just hunting game for a fall feast, Massasoit sent over some some food and brought his people to join in as well. So there you have it. An incident that could have erupted into a massacre due to hair trigger tempers on both sides ended up in a party because everyone was able to exercise some patience, self-control and understanding. That's a good thing! We need more of that in the world.
The peace between the English settlers at Plymouth and the Wampanoag Indians was brief- only lasting a generation- but it did exist. Understanding on both sides was greatly facilitated by Tisquantum (Squanto), a Native who had knew English and Wampanoag and taught the settlers to plant and harvest New World Crops. (What are the odds? Talk about being in the right place at the right time.) Here's a great short article on the first Thanksgiving from National Geographic Kids. Very well balanced, even acknowledging that some of the Wampanoag still regard Thanksgiving as a reminder of the betrayal their ancestors later suffered.
My point is that the first Thanksgiving really did involve two different cultures learning to live together in peace- at least for a time. With all the violence and bloodshed that occurred between Native Americans and white settlers in American History, we should be happy to look at the times when people did learn to set aside their differences and exercise tolerance while still remembering that we all have the capacity for violence and hatred that could unchecked destroy many.
I personally don't feel like we're being progressive when we twist an event that where people learned to understand and work together into an example of hatred and violence. Examples of different cultures learning to work things out have been precious few. The true examples that do exist need to be examined for the good that we can gain from them.
If you want to take a stand against something that glosses over the suffering of the Native Americans, let's lobby for Andrew Jackson to be taken off the twenty dollar bill. He uprooted thousands of men, women and children from their homes and confined them to suffer and die on reservations. (Now that's something that does sound an awful lot like what happened to Jews and other "undesirables" in Europe under Hitler.) We could replace him with Davy Crockett.
Crockett's grandparents and most of his uncles were killed by Creek and Cherokee. One of his aunts was scalped but survived. When the Creek Nation mounted an offensive against the settlement of Fort Mimms in 1812, Crockett enlisted in the militia.
The story of Davy Crockett gets interesting though we when come to Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act. Crockett was bitterly opposed to the removal of the Indians and was one of its most outspoken opponents. Despite the loss of his family members and his own experiences fighting the Creek, Crockett did not view the Native Americans as sub-human savages who should be forced from their homes. The issue was in fact so important to him, that when he could not gain traction in his opposition to Jackson's policies, he made good on his promises to leave the country for Texas- which led him to the Alamo.
(Turns out I'm not the only one who thinks we should take him off the twenty. Harriet Tubman led the results in a recent poll. I'm cool with that one too.)
So there you have it. If we want progress in learning to accept, tolerate and love other cultures, we should celebrate Thanksgiving- and do away with Andrew Jackson's face on our money. (Besides that, Jackson was opposed to paper currency in the first place.)