I had heard of the Great Dying in the Americas after 1492. Still, it was a shocking headline in my newsfeed. 56 MILLION. This is the “estimated number of Indigenous Americans killed by violence, famine, and disease due to European colonization from 1492 to 1600. That’s a 90% drop in the Indigenous population – a decline so rapid it caused the earth’s temperature to cool.”.
“We know the story. Or, at least, we think we do: In 1621, a shared feast between Pilgrims and Indigenous Americans in Massachusetts to give thanks for the harvest and survival of Plymouth colonists created a 400-year tradition Americans mark annually.
“Most of us know that tale is, in large measure, a lie…
“That story exists in part to obfuscate the quite bloody reality of how the nation was actually claimed by the colonists who arrived here,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, a journalist, activist, and advisory board member for The Emancipator.”
When facts such as these are shared, I hear so many non-Indigenous people complain, “Why are they ruining the best holiday?” I understand. Hey, I grew up with the myth as well. It was such an affirming, positive story that one wanted it to be true.
“So how do Indigenous people in America mark Thanksgiving? The ways are as diverse and complex as the communities themselves. They do mourn the atrocities their ancestors suffered. But Indigenous culture is also firmly rooted in the tradition of giving thanks. They find a way to do both.
“One of NoiseCat’s traditions is attending Sunrise Ceremonies at Alcatraz Island, the Indigenous land that became the now-shuttered prison, to commemorate a 19-month occupation that began in 1969. Bay Area Native American activists sought to reclaim the island under the terms of a 19th-century treaty.”
The article is from Unbound, a newsletter from The Emancipator, published by the Boston Globe. In each issue, “Kimberly Atkins Stohr, senior columnist for The Emancipator and The Boston Globe, explores past to present-day themes centered on antiracism and democracy.” She examines “some of the most urgent conversations on racial justice infused with context, news, and perspective.
The statistical citation is from Quarternary Science Reviews’ 2019 study Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492 by Alexander Koch, Chris Brierley, Mark M. Maslin and Simon L. Lewis. You can hear Koch on the Last Born In The Wilderness podcast.