Wednesday, November 21, 2012
To Native Americans, beloved by God:
This Thursday, Americans will celebrate the "Thanksgiving" holiday, but I can't "give thanks" to God without first coming to you and saying I'm sorry.
I grew up celebrating the holiday with the white majority in America, but I can't honestly remember thinking about you even once all that time. When I was little, my schools put up decorations of "Pilgrims and Indians" remembering the celebration at Plymouth in 1621, and I once remember dressing up as an "Indian" in kindergarten. You were characters from history to us, cardboard-cutouts placed next to turkeys or costumes to be worn. We never once thought about you today.
I learned only the basic outline of the story, about how Squanto and Massasoit had earlier helped the pilgrims (who wouldn't have survived without the help the Wampanoag people gave). I was told that the pilgrims were thankful for the harvest, for the food. And I was taught to give thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day, to be thankful for my family, for my blessings, for my country and more, and of course to enjoy the turkey.
But somehow I was never taught to be thankful for what the Natives did. I never stopped to think that if the Natives had not helped the pilgrims, I might not be alive today. And worse still, I never thought about how different the image of that first Thanksgiving was from our celebration of "Thanksgiving" today: I never thought of where you were today.
I didn't learn about what happened afterward that first "Thanksgiving" until many years later. I wouldn't blame you for wishing that "Thanksgiving" in 1621 had never happened, or that Squanto had not shown mercy to the people who had once enslaved him.
I'm alive today because of the goodwill your ancestors showed. Your people have been through so much suffering, and I wish that so many of those things had never happened. In a way, I feel like a child who was conceived and born because of the rape of your people. I want to tell you that I'm sorry such terrible things happened, but that I am grateful to be alive because of the mercy of your forefathers. I believe God can bring life out of death, and good things out of absolutely horrible things.
So I want to say THANK YOU for what your ancestors did. I am alive, and I am thankful. I am thankful to God, and I am thankful to you. What your ancestors did at Plymouth showed God's mercy. They welcomed immigrants instead of leaving them to die or considering them enemies. What they did shows the love of Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave His life to us while we were still His enemies.
So I want to honor what they did, and I want to honor you.
In His love,
About the painting: "Giving Thanks"
See also: "Are We Willing to Give Thanks at Thanksgiving?"