an archive of unsettling histories, mythistories, and mystories
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
from U.S. & Mormon settler colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism
Thanksgiving is based on myths that hide and erase the genocide that the United States is founded upon.
Before we can talk about the Pilgrims, we must address their predecessor, Christopher Columbus, who arrived on this continent in 1492.
Between 1492 and 1619, European contact brought violence and pandemics that killed 90% of the Indigenous populations of the so-called Americas.
These deaths made up about 10% of the global population at that time. This genocide led to a “Little Ice Age” or a period of global cooling between the 16th and mid-19th century.
The story that we usually hear about Thanksgiving does not typically include those decades of disease and destruction.
Some early “Thanksgivings” were celebrations of massacres. Near so-called Groton, Connecticut, Dutch and English mercenaries massacred 500-700 people of the Pequot Tribe during their Green Corn Dance in 1637.
The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day of Thanksgiving” to commemorate “ the victory obtained against the Pequots.”
We find it difficult to celebrate this holiday given its history, but we believe that it can be recontextualized (hence, calling it “Things-taken” or “No Thanks, No Giving”).
Because of the gap between the myth and the actual events, Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to talk with family and friends about how to shift from celebrating genocide to working towards Indigenous liberation.
“A Brief Guide for Things-taken Discussions with Friends and Family” from ABQ SURJ
Adapted from the Rethinking “thanksgiving” Toolkit by the Indigenous Solidarity Network
God's Hand on Plymouth Rock
Euro colonists used the Doctrine of Discovery to establish domination and ownership over non-Christian peoples and their lands.
This Doctrine, written by the Pope in 1095 AD, declared any land in which Christians weren’t living “empty” and open to conquest.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg cited this Doctrine to deny land rights to the Oneida Nation in 2005.
European entrepreneurs had tried to create “New England” for decades. Settlement attempts prior to the Mayflower had always been unsuccessful because of Indigenous resistance. Then came “the miraculous plague” or “The Great Dying” of 1616-19.
“There hath, by God's visitation, reigned a wonderful plague [causing] the utter destruction, devastation, and depopulation of that whole territory.” – King James I
Depending on the village, “The Great Dying” epidemic is thought to have claimed the lives of 75-90% of local Indigenous people.
“For the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess.” - John Winthrop, Massachusetts governor
Like the Manifest Destineers centuries later, settler-colonists interpreted the destruction of Indigenous People as part of a divine plan to make way for their settlements.
By the time the Pilgrims landed the entire coastal region had been ravaged by Euro-diseases which wiped out most of the Wampanoag, Massachusetts, Pennacook, Nauset, Pemaquid, and Abenaki People.
With the growth of Plymouth Colony and an influx of new Euro-migrants coming to New England each year, new pandemics continued to destroy already decimated Indigneous peoples–the “Great Smallpox Epidemic” of 1633, the “Universal Sickness” of 1645, the “Plague and the Pox” of 1650-51, and the “Bloody-Flux” of 1652.
When Natives fell ill to colonial-disease, it was written as a Divine opportunity by colonizers. The myth of the ‘pilgrimage’ of religious freedom was a planned theft of land Europeans had been seeking for decades.
While Euro-diseases devastated Indigenous peoples, that was not the only violence Europeans brought with them. Colonizers also say the hand of God in their own and the swords, guns, and Bibles they carried.
Act out of Mutual Liberation–Food, Land, and Climate
We do this work not ‘for’ Indigenous people, but as accomplices. We act out of mutual stakes, recognizing that we are all facing the colonial-caused crises of climate chaos, biological annihilation, and environmental destruction.
Colonial genocide in the first 100years of contact caused a “Little Ice Age.” When the land’s Indigenous stewards were genocided the forests overgrew and pulled so much CO2 from the atmosphere that it cooled the globe, causing mass crop failures in N. Europe.
Euro settler-colonization has destroyed 90% of forests in the so-called US, along with the lifeways of the animals and peoples that depend on those forests–most of it cleared for agriculture.
Now, ~400 years later, 1 in 4 natives homes are food scarce while white People own 98% of all private U.S. agricultural land thus, own 98% of all farm-related income. We destroyed Indigenous foodways and left them out of ours.
Humans and cows now occupy ~96% of the Earth’s biomass of mammals. The birds we raise to eat (like turkey) occupy 60% of bird biomass–leaving only 4% for mammal diversity and 40% for bird diversity!
This imbalance of biomass requires an imbalanced production of food.
As settlers grow more and more monocrop fields laced with pesticides, wild plants and animals have less and less space to live.
Forests are being destroyed globally to clear land to make even more monocultures of soy, palm oil, and cows–mostly consumed by European and settler nations.
In fact, “of the 28,000 species threatened with extinction, agriculture is a threat for 24,000 of them”
All this biodiversity loss seriously risks food security, especially as the climate collapses, because agricultural resilience is its diversity.
Fortunately, not all humans contribute equally to these extreme imbalances.
While Indigenous people only make up 5% of the world’s population, they also protect 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity. “Indigenous people protect the land, air, and water we all need to live.” - Nick Estes
Supporting Indigenous sovereignty and stewardship of lands and waters ensures that they will be protected for future generations.
Home, Heat, and Family History
Know whose land you’re on.
Colonialism happens in a place. Your school, home, and places of worship all occupy Indigenous land. We settlers need to viscerally recognize this. Know whose land you’re on.
Know Your Family’s and/or Your People’s History
European settlers on this continent are here at the expense of Indigenous People.
If we have Euro roots, our family’s history includes joining the US settler state and benefiting from the displacement and genocide of Indigenous People.
Many times, our families came to this land seeking opportunity and fleeing oppression. Pushed by the violence and poverty imposed by capitalism and other oppressions, People of Euro descent became agents and/or beneficiaries of genocide.
We need to grapple with difficult questions in order to change this ongoing reality: Whose lands did/do our People occupy? Were our families involved in militias or armies invading Indigenous territories? Did they get land through the Homestead Acts or other methods of privatizing/stealing Indigenous land?
Did they/do we benefit from water rights, real estate development, and cheap energy at the expense of Indigenous nations? Do the universities they/we attended benefit from the Morrill Act? What laws have led to white People owning 98% of private land in the U.S.? Researching these histories can give us a better understanding of how (and why) to work toward Indigenous land return.
Know Where Your Water, Heat, Electricity, and Other Resources Come From
Many Indigenous ppl have been forced off of their homelands & forced onto federally designated reservations. Enormous amounts of resource$ are extracted from Indigenous land, in the forms of coal, gas, oil, uranium, & copper, all of which leave toxins for generations.
Extractive-capitalist projects often lead to increased violence against Indigenous women & children, especially because of “man camps.” Huge profits come from extraction on Native lands & little of that money is returned to those communities. Indigenous ppl are left w/ the destruction of lands & lifeways, as well as the devastating impacts to physical, emotional, & spiritual health.
I am nicholas b jacobsen, an artist, researcher, historian, educator, and organizer. I am a trans-non binary Euro-settler raised in the Nuwu lands of so-called Utah. My family has been Mormon and Utahn for as long as either of those concepts have existed. My ancestors sacrificed everything--their identities, homelands, jobs, health, & safety to become Mormon, Utahn, U.S. American, & white--to settler their Zion. I take it as my personal responsibility to unsettle what my ancestors settled. and to help my fellow settlers do the same through writing, art, and community building.