Ever heard of Roger Williams? How about Bartolome de Las Casas, Father Antonio de Montesinos, Captain Silas Soule, or Lt. Joe Cramer? Likely, most readers have not. Yet they probably would know the story of Christopher Columbus, or the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Tragically colonial revisionist history has made heroes out of villains like Columbus, and vilified or ignored real heroes like Montesinos. Tomorrow millions of Americans will celebrate the cherished myth of the First Thanksgiving in which English colonists and indigenous peoples supposedly befriended one another and had a big feast. The only problem is, nothing about this story is true.
It was not about religious freedom
As the story goes, a persecuted religious sect fled England to pursue religious freedom in North America. This sect was not called “Pilgrims” as many believe, they were called Separatists or Puritans. If the Separatists were so persecuted then how did its most famous leader, Oliver Cromwell, succeed in overthrowing the English monarchy under Charles I, and continue the genocidal English colonization of Ireland? The Puritan government of England under Cromwell was a theocratic military dictatorship that reached across the Atlantic. In its European domains it persecuted Catholics, in the Massachusetts colony it denied the right of indigenous peoples to their religious freedom. Later, the English colonial government would decimate the indigenous peoples and nations of the Dawn Land in a series of genocidal wars. It didn't have to be this way.
Roger Williams and soul liberty
The revisionist history of the Dawn Land (what the settler colonials call New England) is rife with praise for people like Squanto. Also known as Tisquantum, he chose the English over his own people and is reviled by Native people who know the true history. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit wanted to kill Squanto for his treason. He escaped under protection of the English. Here again, colonial revisionist history makes a villain into a hero. One of the true heroes of the era was Roger Williams. Williams was an English colonist that made a real effort at befriending the indigenous peoples of the Dawn Land. Williams, unlike his mythologized Puritan counterparts, was an early proponent of true religious liberty. Williams even went so far as to defend the right of indigenous peoples to their traditional spirituality under his theory of “Soul Liberty.” His ideas would later inspire the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the American Constitution. For his defense of Native people Williams was vilified, and very nearly killed, by his own people. Indigenous opposition to the racist #Thanksgiving holiday is not about vilifying white people. It is about getting to the truth for our mutual benefit.
The real heroes on the European side are all forgotten. There is no national holiday for Las Casas or Montesinos who stood up against the brutality of Columbus. There is no national holiday for Captain Silas Soule and Lt. Joe Cramer who tried to defend the Cheyenne and Arapaho from the brutal Sand Creek Massacre perpetrated by Col. John M. Chivington. Tragically, instead of celebrating a real hero like Roger Williams, Americans choose to celebrate the Thanksgiving myth. So long as this continues there can be no meaningful alliance of indigenous and settler society to fight social ills like; destruction of the Environment, #Climate Change, and #Police Brutality.
Indigenous and settler relations today
In the 1970s the American Indian Movement declared Thanksgiving a national day of mourning for fallen indigenous peoples. Today, many mourn for the death of our civil rights in the form of fascist, militarized police violence perpetrated against peaceful water protectors in their homeland. Settler society must not continue the legacy of Columbus, Custer, and other villains. Settler society must instead build on the legacy of Las Casas, Montesinos, and Williams. Otherwise, no one is free.