Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanking god for genocide

So this really gets to me in a new way this year. The story about Thanksgiving with which I grew is more or less summarized in this Chuck Colson commentary from today. Chuck tells this story about the "pilgrims":

In April of 1623—three years after the first Pilgrims landed—the transplanted Englishmen and women planted corn and other crops. A good harvest was essential to their survival. But in the weeks following the planting, it became clear that a dry spell was turning into a drought.

Pilgrim father Edward Winslow recorded their distress in his diary. “It pleased God, for our further chastisement,” he wrote, “to send a great drought; insomuch as in six weeks . . . there scarce fell any rain.” The crops began to shrivel up “as though they had been scorched before the fire . . . God,” Winslow wrote, “which hitherto had been our only shield and supporter, now seemed in His anger to arm Himself against us. And who can withstand the fierceness of His wrath?”

The Pilgrims decided the only solution was to humble themselves before God in fasting and in prayer. They appointed a day of prayer and set aside all other employments.

Winslow describes what happened next. “In the morning,” he wrote, “when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear, and the drought as like to continue as it ever was.” But by late afternoon—after eight or nine hours of prayer—“the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered on all sides,” Winslow wrote. The next morning brought “soft, sweet and moderate shows of rain, continuing some fourteen days.” The needed rain was “mixed with such seasonable weather,” he wrote, “as it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived, such was the bounty and goodness of our God.”

This dramatic answer to prayer was a witness to the local Indians. As Winslow notes, “The Indians . . . took notice . . . all of them admired the goodness of our God towards us, that wrought so great a change in so short of time, showing the difference between their conjuration and our invocation on the name of God for rain.”

The harvest that fall was abundant—and the Pilgrims survived yet another year.

Today is Thanksgiving—the day on which we recall the three-day celebration in 1621 in which the Pilgrims invited local Indians to join them in thanking God for His blessings on them—not, as some school children are taught today in class, giving thanks to Indians.

Ok, this bothers me on various levels, but the worst is this line
The Indians . . . took notice . . . all of them admired the goodness of our God towards us, that wrought so great a change in so short of time, showing the difference between their conjuration and our invocation on the name of God for rain.

There is such an astoundingly high level of condescension, superiority, and empire behind Mr. Wilson's sentence. And beyond that, It's ... barbarian. I mean I think the people back in the day--the time of Homer, had a better clue than we do about the real nature of the gods. When it comes down to it, we europeans had more powerful, and more evil, gods than the indians did. they were right to be impressed. But they missed the boat if they weren't terrified. Estimates vary, but there were probably at at least 50 million indigenous people in the U.S. Pre-Columbus. Today there are nearly 3 million. Some people have referred to this as "democide", others as "genocide". Call it what you may, If you were a Native American in the 1600s, you had every reason to be impressed and terrified by the Europeans and their gods.

At Off the Map Live earlier this month, Richard Twiss responded to a question about descendants of immigrants seeking reconciliation with native peoples thusly: "Well, think about it like this. What if twenty years ago, you stole my car. And now twenty years later, you come to me and say "You know, I stole your car all those years ago, and I feel really terrible about it. And I'd like to ask your forgiveness and seek reconciliation in our relationship." And I said "Well, that sounds great. But can I have the car back?" And you said "Well, that doesn't seem reasonable. I've had the car all these years. I've maintained it. I've driven it. It's like part of my family now. I can't see giving the car back"

So the response from the predominately white audience was laughter. But the laughter was hiding a certain discomfort, wasn't it?

How can people who claim to be followers of Jesus celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday every year with the lie of a story they tell? Chuck Colson's commentary is heard on 1000 radio stations in the United States. There are a *huge* number of Americans of European descent in this country who will get together today and retell this story, and the vast majority of them won't give a shit that on an "Indian reservation" not too far from them, the last remains of the Indigenous peoples will continue to suffer from extremely high suicide rates, High rates of substance dependence, and other difficulties. Because the White European god won. And they will give this shockingly pathetic thanks to that god. It will involve gratitude for "nice" things. None of them will be saying things like "thankyou that you helped us win, so that we can be the 20% who consume 80% of the worlds resources. Thankyou for helping us win so we can bomb civilians in other countries, rather than them bombing us. Thankyou for helping us win, so we can wrap ourselves in this shell of materialism and denial, and eat enormous amounts of food while 30,000 children in the third world starve to death today."

I think we should start a new tradition for Thanksgiving. I think every American ought to (there, I should'd on you. Consider yourself warned) read this speech by Chief Seattle, given as evening drew down for the indigenous peoples of this country. Here's an excerpt.

"But can this ever be? Your God loves your people and hates mine; he folds his strong arms lovingly around the white man and leads him as a father leads his infant son, but he has forsaken his red children; he makes your people wax strong every day, and soon they will fill the land; while my people are ebbing away like a fast-receding tide, that will never flow again. The white man's God cannot love his red children or he would protect them. They seem to be orphans and can look nowhere for help. How then can we become brothers? How can your father become our father and bring us prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness?"

"Your God seems to us to be partial. He came to the white man. We never saw Hirn; never even heard His voice; He gave the white man laws but He had no word for His red children whose teeming millions filled this vast continent as the stars fill the firmament. No, we are two distinct races and must ever remain so. There is little in common between us. The ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their final resting place is hallowed ground, while you wander away from the tombs of your fathers seemingly without regret."

"Your religion was written on tables of stone by the iron finger of an angry God, lest you might forget it, The red man could never remember nor comprehend it."

"Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors, the dream of our old men, given them by the great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people."

"Your dead cease to love you and the homes of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb. They wander far off beyond the stars, are soon forgotten, and never return. Our dead never forget the beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its winding rivers, its great mountains and its sequestered vales, and they ever yearn in tenderest affection over the lonely hearted living and often return to visit and comfort them."

"Day and night cannot dwell together. The red man has ever fled the approach of the white man, as the changing mists on the mountainside flee before the blazing morning sun."

"However, your proposition seems a just one, and I think my folks will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them, and we will dwell apart and in peace, for the words of the great white chief seem to be the voice of nature speaking to my people out of the thick darkness that is fast gathering around them like a dense fog floating inward from a midnight sea."

"It matters but little where we pass the remainder of our days. They are not many."

"The Indian's night promises to be dark. No bright star hovers about the horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Some grim Nemesis of our race is on the red man's trail, and wherever he goes he will still hear the sure approaching footsteps of the fell destroyer and prepare to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter. A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of all the mighty hosts that once filled this broad land or that now roam in fragmentary bands through these vast solitudes will remain to weep over the tombs of a people once as powerful and as hopeful as your own."

"But why should be repine? Why should I murmur at the fate of my people? Tribes are made up of individuals and are no better than they. Men come and go like the waves of the sea. A tear, a tamanawus, a dirge, and they are gone from our longing eyes forever. Even the white man, whose God walked and talked with him, as friend to friend, is not exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see."

"We will ponder your proposition, and when we have decided we will tell you. But should we accept it, I here and now make this the first condition: That we will not be denied the privilege, without molestation, of visiting at will the graves of our ancestors and friends. Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe."

"Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events connected with the fate of my people, and the very dust under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred."

"The sable braves, and fond mothers, and glad-hearted maidens, and the little children who lived and rejoiced here, and whose very names are now forgotten, still love these solitudes, and their deep fastness at eventide grow shadowy with the presence of dusky spirits. And when the last red man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among white men shall have become a myth, these shores shall swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children shall think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway or in the silence of the woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night, when the streets of your cities and villages shall be silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not altogether powerless."


Diana Butler Bass said...

I rarely comment on things written about me, however, when someone quotes me incorrectly, I must point out the mistake.

I neither said what was reported here (the question reported sounds nothing like me) nor was I laughing at anything more than Richard Twiss' elegantly winsome way of making a very serious and painful point. It wasn't a laughter of discomfort, it was the rueful laughter of recognizing one's participation in systemic injustice.

If you choose to quote someone, it should be correct and exact, including the nuances of an event, and not "close enough."

Benjamin Ady said...


I totally want to apologize to you. I had no intention to misquote you. I have removed your name from the post.

If you like, I can remove the two comments as well, so your name is disappeared from here as well.

Or, if you want to correct the quote for me, I'd be happy to fix that too, with or without your name attached.

Or, if you like, I can post a correction at the top of my blog.

Let me know.

Again--really sorry. Thankyou for letting me know.