Native American speaker shares a different view of Thanksgiving

Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MONTAGUE — Thanksgiving can be spent one of two ways.

Many people in the United States will most likely spend the beginning of the November holiday with their friends and family gathered in the kitchen roasting a turkey, whipping potatoes and baking casseroles and will end the day gathered around a dining room table sharing laughs and enjoying each other’s company, all while giving thanks for what they have.

For many indigenous peoples, it won’t be a day of laughing and celebrating, but of commemorating all the lives that were lost when the English settlers murdered natives as they attempted and eventually succeed in claiming the land as their own. A march honoring the 46th annual National Day of Mourning will be held on Nov. 26 at noon in Plymouth.

Mohawk Bear Clan member Billy Myers said the first Thanksgiving took place in the 1620s when the English settlers slaughtered about 500 Pequots and celebrated their victory with a feast. Myers described his ancestors’ experience as “a dark time.”

“Let’s be realistic here,” he said. “The natives had no place here when the settlers came into town. There’s no question about it. It’s somewhat of a Thanksgiving myth that natives went and caught game and gave it to the settlers.”

During the third annual Beaver Moon Gathering held at the Great Falls Discovery Center, Myers stood behind a microphone and a computer in the middle of the Great Hall and clicked through hundreds of photos that were projected on a screen in front of him as he shared snippets of his life as a Native American in the 21st century. He described various Native American beliefs, life on a modern reservation and the hardships indigenous people still face today.

Myers noted the difference between a conventional celebration of Thursday’s national holiday, which was established by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and an indigenous celebration. For example, he said giving thanks to mother nature is a daily event in the lives of natives as they pray in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening.

“Three times a day we thank our creator,” he said. “Thanksgiving addresses that we — all together — have to make sure that we can do just what we can to keep everything going. We have children and mother earth is going to be here with or without us.”

Myers told the approximately 50 people in attendance that even though he continues to practice indigenous beliefs, participates in various ceremonies and spends a lot of time visiting numerous reservations, he leads a similar life to many who were sitting in the room on Saturday afternoon. He plays the drums in a band, Gary Farmer and the Troublemakers.

Every day Myers continues to learn about the history of indigenous peoples. He said the world is filled with diverse people and advises everyone to learn more about each other as we all live on the same planet and share the same resources.

“People are open and not afraid to question things that were written down,” he said. “We live in a time of information and have no excuse for not really knowing the picture.”


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