By Lana Turnbull
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, everybody is making plans for where they’ll spend the holiday, who is cooking what, and the ever-challenging question of how many are coming. While today’s feast does share some of the same dishes believed to have been served at the first Thanksgiving, the rest of our holiday celebration is not just separated by almost four centuries, we are light years apart in the ways our society, our culture and our environment are different.
In 1620 a ship called the Mayflower carried 102 passengers who were setting out from their native England to seek a home in the New World. Unfortunately, they would prove to be ill-prepared for the hardships ahead of them. They landed near the tip of what is now Cape Cod and eventually made their way across the bay to settle in a spot they would call Plymouth. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers lived to see their first New England spring. Without the help of members of local Native American tribes, it is unlikely the rest of this haggard band would have survived.
Tribesmen like Squanto, who spoke English after being kidnapped by an English sea captain, enslaved and later returning to his native land, would teach the settlers the skills they needed to survive. The Pilgrims, as they are commonly called, learned how to cultivate corn and squash, tap maple trees for their sap, catch fish in the rivers and track game in the forest. By November of 1621 after the tiny settlement survived anther year and finished a successful fall harvest, Plymouth’s governor William Bradford called for a communal feast to thank God and their Native American neighbors for their friendship and help.
How different our Thanksgiving celebrations are today. From one tiny settlement in the wilderness of what would later become Massachusetts, generations of American settlers and their children’s children spread north, south and west to span the width of the continent, clearing their way and establishing hundreds of thousands of cities and towns. Unfortunately, the offspring of the Pilgrims were not as generous as their early Native American friends. Instead of repaying their kindness in kind, they took native people’s land and eventually relegated their tribes to “reservations” in the west. The term “Indian giver” is a slur to Native Americans that means ‘someone who takes back the gifts they give.’ It would be more accurate if the meaning was revised and the blame reassigned to mean, ‘one who takes away something valuable from those who befriended him and gives back something of little or no worth (while treating them as less than human and stripping them of their culture).
That brings me back to this Thanksgiving. This has been a hard year. As a nation we seem to be coming apart. We are divided in every conceivable way – by ethnicity, by faith, by gender or sexual orientation, by economic and social status and by ideology.
It seems to me this Thanksgiving we need to do much more than just give thanks to God. We need to ask Him for forgiveness for all of the injustices to our fellow men and our mother earth we as a nation have committed – from failing to live up to the premise that all men (and women) are created equal, to poisoning our once pristine lands and water, and from exploiting nature for its vast resources to disrupting the habitats of wildlife on land and in the oceans. Finally, we need to ask for the wisdom to recognize that we are on the path to our own destruction unless we come together before it’s too late to solve the critical problems facing our country and our world. Never has there been a time when all mankind has had more to lose than at this moment in history.
This Thanksgiving and every day, let us pray.