I remember watching The Mouse on the Mayflower every year on the American holiday of Thanksgiving during my childhood. It is an animated film that tells the story of the Puritans who sailed to the "New World" on the Mayflower through the narration of a church mouse named Willum. The mouse leads us through the voyage across the Atlantic, the establishment of a colony in what is now Massachusetts, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, and the pilgrims' encounters with local Indian tribes. The film includes a shared harvest celebration between the colonists and the Wampanoag tribe - what came to be called "The First Thanksgiving."
I don't think that this film still airs, but I found it on Vimeo and watched it again. It made me cringe multiple times. The portrayal of the Puritans and the Wampanoag tribe are full of stereotypes that sanitize history and reinforce the myth of a peaceful, divinely inspired colonization enabled by bloodless Native acquiescence. Conflict is presented as the result of individual "bad apples" within the Puritan and Native communities. After depicting the thanksgiving feast, the film ends with a homage to national development: praying pilgrims, cleared land, a ship sailing under an iron bridge, an American flag billowing in the wind. Native people are nowhere to be seen.
The film may no longer be shown, but the myth pervades. Continuing to distort history and whitewash the devastating impacts of colonization reinforces generational trauma among Native American communities and prevents the restorative work of reconciliation. For readers who celebrate American Thanksgiving, here are two things you can do to demythologize Thanksgiving and connect gratitude with truth telling and restorative justice.
Learn The History
There are numerous resources that help us understand the complex history of Thanksgiving. Our friends at Bioneers have several short articles that explore the history of the holiday, offer a more complete retelling, and suggest ways to adapt our Thanksgiving practices. If you want to dive deeper, you can choose a book from this compilation of Native American history writing.
Listen to This Podcast
Our most recent Earthkeepers podcast episode is a conversation with Lenore Three Stars of the Oglala Sioux band of the Lakota Nation, and Robbie Paul of the Nez Perce People, that explores the myths around Thanksgiving and the continued need for healing and reconciliation in and between Native and non-Native communities. It is a moving and important conversation worth listening to with an open heart and mind.
Giving thanks is an essential response to the gifts of life and creation. When we divorce gratitude from justice, however, we begin to turn in on ourselves and neglect the Creator's call to live generously, equitably, and sacrificially so that gifts and gratitude are shared by all. Whatever your gatherings and feasting may look like this week, I encourage you to give thanks for the gifts that have made your life possible, and to ask for guidance in how you might extend those gifts to others in ways that cultivate healing and reconciliation.
With you on the Way,