Thanksgiving. The time of year where people get together with their family and friends to engage in a feast, but also to give thanks for the blessings which they have received throughout the year. It is also highlighted by football, parades, the pardoning of turkeys, and the infamous Black Friday.
But as is the case with some holidays (e.g. Halloween, Christmas) Thanksgiving has been demonized by some people. Atheists detest the holiday because of its religious roots. Leftists despise it because of Black Friday sales beginning on Thanksgiving (this is a story in itself — in fact, I wrote an article about Black Friday last November).
But the biggest controversy surrounding Thanksgiving is that some people have viewed it as European oppression of the Indians. This is not the case, considering the Pilgrims had formed a bond with the Wampanoag tribe soon after settling in Plymouth. In fact, had it not been for Squanto and his fellow Wampanoags (led by Massasoit and Samoset), then the Pilgrims would not have survived, because the Indians had taught them how to live off the land, in addition to providing the Pilgrims with enough food until they were able to provide for themselves.
Thus, the first Thanksgiving was a feast of friendship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, as well as a feast of thanks for having survived. Keep in mind the Pilgrims had endured a tedious journey across the Atlantic, a harsh winter after arriving in the New World, and disease (which killed off many of them). Some estimates place the death toll of the Pilgrim settlement at 50%.
Although there had already been deadly conflicts (as well as enslavement) between the various Indian tribes and European colonists (e.g. the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs and the Incas) and more conflicts would later take place (e.g. King Philip’s War), the colonists managed to form alliances with certain Indian tribes, the best known being the British aligning with the Iroquois and the French becoming an ally of the Algonquin. Such alliances played an important role during the Colonial Wars: King William’s War (1689-1697), Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), King George’s War (1740-1748), and the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
As horrific as one views such conflicts (and any atrocities associated with them), one must remember that these wars took place in a different era, where it was acceptable to carry out such actions, whether it be massacres on the grounds of retribution or failing to surrender, or the odious method of enslavement (for anyone who was captured). One must also remember that not everyone endorsed these methods. The Indians would have friends among the colonists (hence the alliances) and would continue to do so long after the colonies throughout the Americas became independent nations (despite any conflicts which took place afterward).
Of course, it was not war or enslavement that killed off most of the Indian population. It was diseases that the Indians were not immune to. As horrible as the death toll had become as a result of the diseases, it was not genocide. Genocide requires planning, and no one had planned (much less considered) large numbers of Indians dying of disease.
The history between the Indians and the Europeans was a tumultuous one, but it was no different from any other region of the world. Despite the tragedies, there were bright spots, such as intermarriages (e.g. a majority of Mexicans are mixed-race), alliances, and efforts at reconciliation. Thanksgiving, too, was one of them.