A Holiday of Reconciliation

By: Daniel Nardini

When we all think of Thanksgiving, we think about the first English colonists and the Native Americans (in this case the Wampanoags) getting together to celebrate a harvest in gratitude for surviving the first winter and for the Wampanoags helping the Pilgrims. This part is true. But it is only part of the story. The first Thanksgiving was also a meeting about land rights between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags. The Wampanoags’ chief of the time, Massasoit, remained on good terms with the Pilgrims to the end of his life. The original Pilgrims tried to get along with the Wampanoags. However, the original Plymouth colony was eventually swamped with Puritans who did not have as good an opinion of the Wampanoags, and who gradually encroached on Wampanoag lands.

Of course this not only caused serious resentment among the Wampanoags, but greatly caused animosity between the English ans Wampanoags. Worse for the Wampanoags their numbers had been declining due to diseases like smallpox spread (unintentionally) by the English colonists. Eventually Chief Massasoit died and was replaced by his son Metacomet (who would be called by the English “King Phillip”). Unlike Massasoit, Metacomet did not trust the English and so he enlisted other tribes in an attempt to start a war. This war, known as “King Phillip’s War, would damage or destroy 52 out of the 96 English settlements in the New England area. The war lasted from 1675-1676, and is estimated to have killed one-fourth of all the English colonists. For the Wampanoags it was worse—half of all the Wampanoags were slaughtered. From that point in history the Wampanoags were almost completely wiped out as a people.

Yet by some miracle they survived and there are still five Wampanoag tribes in the United States today. One cannot change the past, nor undo the injustices that have been committed. However, perhaps the U.S. government can perhaps issue an official apology for what happened to the Wampanoags for the U.S. government’s attempted assimilation policy against them in the 19th Century (what happened to them before was not technically the fault of the U.S. government since it and the United States did not exist at the time) and also designate Thanksgiving as a “day of reconciliation.” This way what the Wampanoags call a “Day of Mourning” could become a day when their suffering will be acknowledged and at least might begin a healing process that their ancestors had suffered. Thanksgiving in the beginning was a of celebration, so let us make it one again for all concerned.

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