As members of the Interfaith Opportunities Network and the Interfaith Council of Franklin County, we feel called to write to you with a deep challenge. We ask you to reflect on and re-imagine a holiday that is deeply meaningful to many people of faith.
Many of us treasure Thanksgiving as an opportunity to come together with loved ones, to practice gratitude for the blessings in our lives, and to give thanks to the Source of those blessings. Many also value it as a religious holiday less closely identified with a particular faith than Christmas, Easter, the Jewish High Holidays, or Ramadan. It is often celebrated as a time when people from different faiths, cultures and races can come together as one. Many also value it as a time when families can attempt to bridge political and other values that often divide us from each other.
In this year, however, as many of us are looking more deeply than before at systemic racism and 400 years of colonization of Native homelands, we are learning that there is much to this holiday that was hidden from us until now. We are also thinking about how to incorporate new understandings into our ways of marking this holiday. We invite you to join with us in this reflection and to share your re-imaginings with others in our interfaith community.
We are learning that our traditional understanding of the Thanksgiving story is fundamentally flawed and damaging to the Native peoples whose homelands we now inhabit. It reinforces the idea that this nation is primarily for whites as opposed to Indigenous folk and People of Color and for Christians as opposed to other faiths. It hides the history of Native land theft and genocide. It ignores important historical facts, including the reality that one of the first references to declaration of "a day set apart for public thanksgiving" by the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was in response to the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children in Mystic CT. This narrative also reinforces the invisibility of Native peoples living today in our region and undermines the work these peoples are doing to preserve their cultures and advance their rights and respect.
For all these reasons for the past fifty years, many Native Americans have marked Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning.
We do not have to abandon Thanksgiving as a holiday or the things we value about it. If, however, we are going to be truthful and move towards right relationship with the Native peoples living among us, we need to re-imagine this holiday and reshape our narrative surrounding it.
* Let us acknowledge that whatever harvest meal was shared between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag in early fall of 1621 it was not a celebration of interfaith and interracial mutual respect as the traditional Thanksgiving narrative suggests.
* Let us recognize that our first Thanksgivings were declared by Puritan governors in New England who were at least in part thanking God for their victories over Native peoples in our region.
* Let us remember that the holiday was born in a religious community that believed it had a divine right to invade, conquer, subdue, convert, enslave, and (if necessary) exterminate the Indigenous peoples who had been living in this region for 10,000 years before Europeans arrived here.
* If we celebrate this holiday today let us do so with a sense of humility and need for forgiveness for what those who conquered these lands did and continue to do to the original inhabitants of this land.
* And, finally, let us commit ourselves to practice truth, right relationship, healing, and justice with these same Native peoples going forward.
In peace, Katie Tolles & Peter Blood, co-conveners, Interfaith Opportunities Network Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener & Rev. Kate Stevens, Interfaith Council of Franklin County Rev. Kelly Gallagher, Justice & Witness Ministries, Southern New England United Church of Christ