The Irony of Thanksgiving

There may be a little more history about the Wampanoag Tribe that you need to know:

It’s not so warm and fuzzy a history. As the great grand daughter of a Cherokee Indian Chief, I find the celebration of Thanksgiving a little unsettling, since it is meant to present the history of Europeans and Native Americans in a delightfully neighborly light, when Europeans ravaged the lands of indigenous people to make it their own. Surely, Caribbean people understand this activity but it may not be completely the same, since Africans did not inhabit the Caribbean but were shipped their by slave traders. We really need to see colonialism in its true light.

1616 Traders from Europe bring yellow fever to Wampanoag territory. The geographical area affected was all of the 69 tribes of the Wampanoag Nation from present day Provincetown, MA to Narragansett Bay; the boundary of the Wampanoag and Narragansett Nations. Fully two thirds of the entire Wampanoag Nation (estimated at 45,000) die. This also represents a loss of as many speakers of the language. Hardest hit are Elders and small children; critical age groups for any language. European disease would also place in jeopardy each tribes ability to sustain a population for defense of its territory and culture.

1655 Harvard Indian College opens for the purpose of educating Indian youth. Harvard was in financial troubles during this time and felt that if they opened an Indian College they could secure more funding from those benefactors in England. If the Wampanoag population were assimilated to Christianity and moved away from traditional life, the ease with which land could be appropriated would prove profitable.

1742 The Mashpee Wampanoag send a petition for help to the Commissioners of Boston requesting assistance with a myriad of grievances; being beaten by English when fishing or hunting their own Wampanoag territory, having the White neighbors lease out their lands without their permission, the English selling Wampanoag land to one another without the consent of the tribe, of ‘These English neighbors of ours being in our trees, wood, and marsh without our consent’.This document goes on to remind the Commissioners that Mashpee had been legally set aside for Wampanoag only as long as Wampanoag Indians lived. The petition further states: ‘Truly we think it is this way; that soon we poor Indians here in this Indian place of Mashpee soon shall have no place to live together with these poor children of ours’. The problems with the document were that it was written in Wôpanâôt8âôk and the Commissioners most assuredly did not speak the language. Even if there was a translator the Mashpees were asking the very same group of English oppressors to protect them from that oppression.

1763 The State of MA appoints two White overseers to conduct all business pertaining to the Mashpee Wampanoag on behalf of the tribe. The tribe is stripped of the right to negotiate the lease of any of its’ lands or have control over any of the natural resources thereon. Letters of complaint in regard to the overseers misappropriation of tribal resources and funds go unanswered by the State.

1776 Wampanoag men are held in debtor’s jail in Barnstable. Massachusetts offered early release to Wampanoag men provided they agree to fight in the Revolutionary War.

1776 Early release of Wampanoag prisoners rescinded due to the fact that the prisoners, once free, typically ‘take to the woods and are not seen again’.

1776 Of those Wampanoag that do go to war; a census shows that less than ten return home to Mashpee. This leaves a majority of families in the tribe with widows and few men.

1833 The tribe catches Whites poaching wood from within its boarders and dumps the cartload of wood over and runs the poachers off of their land. News stories hit papers all over the State of Massachusetts declaring, ‘Wood Lot Riot’ and ‘Indians in Revolt’. [Source]

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One response to “The Irony of Thanksgiving

  1. Pingback: Wampanoag Whalers during the Revolutionary War - Historum - History Forums

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