The War on Thanksgiving Is Real

This Thanksgiving holiday provided a striking example of political correctness at its worst, aiming at undercutting our nation’s history and traditions and engaging in the usual over-embellishing of one of the Left’s favored minority groups and denigration of the majority. In this case, the favored group was American Indians and the denigrated group was, of course, Caucasians.

Instead of celebrating the holiday—giving thanks as our Pilgrim forbears did to Almighty God for our national and personal blessings—an alliance of New England Indian tribes (or, probably more correctly, Indian activists) assembled for their fiftieth annual “National Day of Mourning” in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the aim of remembering “the genocide of millions of native people, the theft of native lands and the relentless assault on native culture.” Interestingly, they asserted their support for illegal immigrants, not seeing or wanting to see the obvious contradiction in saying that Europeans four hundred years ago were somehow interlopers in the Western Hemisphere but people sneaking into the country from south of the border now are to be welcomed.

It hardly needs stating that the claim of genocide is outrageous. As Michael Medved wrote, if the arrival of Europeans caused the deaths of many Indians it was not because of violent assault but from completely inadvertent transmissions of communicable diseases that they had no immunity to. This is comparable to how it’s thought the Black Death descended upon Europe, i.e., brought back by traders from East Asia.

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If the Day of Mourning organizers are so distraught about a supposed historical outrage committed by one people against another, it is curious that they are so ready to plant the seeds of renewed conflict instead of promoting forgiveness and brotherhood. It’s also inexcusable that they would be so loose about historical facts when a simple look at history shows how such slipshodness and rumor-spreading has often caused much anger and conflict.

“Genocide” is strong language. Genocide is what the Nazis did during World War II. There is no evidence that European settlers in the New World sought to do that to the prior inhabitants. It should also be noted that some tribes were warlike and had a history of aggression against other tribes. The bloodshed that occurred in conflicts with the “white men” often enough happened because of the aggressiveness of certain tribes. In the case of the Pilgrims, one of the New England tribes tried to get them to ally with them against other tribes that were their enemies. This sharply contrasts with the picture the organizers present of the European settlers as the evildoers, brutally running roughshod over the innocent, peace-loving Indian tribes.

Some tribes engaged in brutality against captured members of other tribes. Perhaps the Aztecs were the most notorious, with their large-scale human sacrifices of members of other tribes in the name of their religion. This so distressed Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoazin—later St. Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared in Guadalupe—that it probably helped move him toward Christianity. For all the claimed repressiveness of the Europeans, it was the Spanish conquerors who put an end to such practices. Like these activists, the politically correct decision-makers in San Jose, California, obviously gave little heed to such historical realities when years back they erected a statue of one of the Aztec gods.

As to stealing Indian lands, a number of facts should be noted. Many tribes were almost nomadic and did not have settled territories. If they did, it was over a vast expanse of territory that they mostly didn’t inhabit, but used for hunting or in some cases agriculture. In places such as along the eastern coast, the land was mostly lightly inhabited forest. It’s not as if the Europeans were routinely pushing them off of their land. Also, there were no legal arrangements to show the ownership of property, such as a title to certain territory. Further, the numbers of original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere were small, especially compared to modern-day populations, and usually spread out, so there was much available land for many new settlers.

There were certainly abuses and injustices committed by the European settlers against the Indians—the Trail of Tears was one of the most notorious—but the organizers of the National Day of Mourning are in the business of making sweeping indictments regardless of historical facts. This is the typical leftist condemnation of “racism”—a term they never define—even while its targeting of the entire group of Caucasian Europeans has all the signs of race prejudice.

What’s more, their readiness to assign victim status to the group they are embracing is also straight out of the leftist playbook. Their seeing of evils all on one side, unquestioning embellishment of Indian culture, and seeming anointing of Indian tribes as utterly innocent and pure—corrupted only when the “civilized” Europeans arrived—is vintage Rousseau. Jean-Jacques Rousseau exalted the “noble savage” who lived in some version of the Garden of Eden until civilization descended. Part of this, by the way, was someone getting the idea of establishing private property, which sounds just like what the organizers claimed happened when the Pilgrims arrived.

The popular designation of American Indians as “Native Americans” has an exclusionary ring to it. Calling them “native” suggests that they are somehow the true Americans. This may have started as a rhetorical tool to help give legitimacy to claims such as those made by the Day of Mourning activists. At worst, it sounds like a claim to superiority in some sense. It is also inaccurate. The best evidence shows that no peoples were native to the Western Hemisphere, but that they had originally come over from Asia.

The fact that the National Day of Mourning takes place on Thanksgiving Day and is obviously meant to crowd out what the latter is all about—i.e., giving thanks to God—suggests a secularist undercurrent in this whole enterprise. These activists are ready to push God out of the picture in the cause of victimology, and their laments about the assault on native culture as well as the apparent unwillingness to judge anything about it critically could lead one to speculate that the paganism of tribes four hundred years ago is just fine with them.

Incidentally, a similar Rousseauian perspective was seen in the working document of the recent Amazon Synod of Bishops, as was pointed out in the latest monthly publication of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. The culture of the remote tribes was extolled, having been characterized as promoting brotherhood not only among people but with nature, being environmentally perfectly ordered as contrasted to our usual contemporary “throwaway culture,” as offering a contrast to the exploitation and oppressiveness of today’s developed nations, having a spirit of universal sharing (as opposed to that dreaded system of private property), and rejecting the “idolatry of money” seen elsewhere. The article bluntly called this a “romanticized portrait,” and mentioned that it outright ignored scholarship that shows how violent and conflictual the history of the Amazon tribal culture has actually been.

It is sad that the Rousseauian mindset of the National Day of Mourning activists in the U.S. has even infiltrated the Church—especially when a major part of what it seeks is the undermining of Christian culture (which is what, even if imperfectly, the European settlers brought with them). Instead of embracing the thought of one of modern secularism’s founding fathers, Rousseau, they should look to St. Juan Diego and St. Kateri Tekakwitha (the Lily of the Mohawks)—whom my eldest daughter is named after—as examples for the Indians of today so as to lead them to happiness and dignity in the true sense of those words.

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  • Stephen M. Krason

    Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

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