This year, in a time of distance and isolation, perhaps
our sorrow and regret at the limitations on our feasting
might be tempered with an acknowledgement of the
Sorrow of this land’s original people.
For descendants of the Europeans, Thanksgiving celebrates
abundance and generosity, remembering when the
Wampanoag people welcomed the Pilgrims,
who were strangers, weary and hungry and far from home.
Let us remember Squanto, of the Pawtuxet tribe,
who taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn,
how to hunt deer and beaver, and where to fish.
Remember Massasoit, chief of the Pokanoket, whose tribe
celebrated with the Pilgrims their first successful harvest.
How has this generosity been repaid? This act of
welcoming the stranger, the commandment in Torah
repeated 36 times, and in its repetition given
priority over almost every other commandment.
These are some of the tribes who lived in this region, whose
descendants mourn the exile of their ancestors,
the loss of their lives and their land,
the destruction of their heritage.
Abenaki, Mohican, Nipmuc, Pennacook, Pocumtuc, Wampanoag.
Rabbi Heschel said
“…in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
It is good to celebrate in joy, to eat together.
None of us are guilty for the deeds of our ancestors.
But we are responsible for healing the wounds they left behind.
May our prayers of thanksgiving also remember
those who paid a terrible price for our presence
in this land. May we rise from our feasting with
greater clarity of vision and renewed
commitment to justice and repair of the world.
I started writing this piece to clarify some of my own conflicting feelings about this holiday. It might be something useful for beginning a Thanksgiving meal. It’s written not with the intent of instilling guilt, but as an honest acknowledgement of our painful history vis a vis the people that had lived here for thousands of years before Europeans “discovered” America.
The first four paragraphs are true to the entire colonization story, but the fifth paragraph names tribes that lived in Massachusetts or surrounding areas, and many of their descendants live here still. If used in other areas of the US, the names could be changed to reflect local history.