Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.
A holiday about gratitude.  A holiday about loved ones, and food, and sports, and plenty, and harmony, and coming together.
There’s nothing wrong, and a lot right, about that.
But there is something wrong with the story my fellow Americans tell of the First Thanksgiving.  We tell a story of English Pilgrims and unspecified “Indians” coming together, and sharing what they had.  We tell a story of mutual respect, of turkeys and chestnuts and games and gifts.  We tell a story of giving thanks even in the face of grief, and of holding out hope of survival against all odds.
This is not untrue.  Some English Puritans braved the rigors of life (and death) in New England to gain religious and civic freedom–to make, they believed, a better world.  Some Wampanoag Indians shared their superior technology and practices with the newcomers.  And everyone met and spent time together peacefully for three days.
But this was an aberration–an exception to the rule.
The Wampanoag came to the English settlement because the English fired their guns in celebration and the Wampanoag thought that it was the beginning of an armed conflict. They had good reason to think so English settlers were not respectful of Native property rights: John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, wrote in the same decade as the storied First Thanksgiving, that the “savage people” held their lands “without right or property”, because common property was not proper, civil property.  Nor did the English honor Native lives: a decade and a half after the First Thanksgiving, they used a flimsy excuse to make war on the Pequots, who inhabited Connecticut and Rhode Island.  Forty years after the Pequot War, the English broke the peace with the Wampanoag, the very nation that had participated in the First Thanksgiving and made the English gifts of knowledge and goods that sustained them through the winter of 1621.  The new settlers decimated the Americans over the course of the next century, with war, disease, and raids: when the English arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in 1642, the Wampanoags there numbered around 3,000.  Even though there were no major wars on that island, by 1764, only 313 Wampanoag were left on Martha’s Vineyard.
Because of these and other atrocities, a handful of Americans spend Thanksgiving as a national day of mourning.  Native Americans, white Americans, black Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans–people from many backgrounds participate in this day, meditating on the power of resilience in the face of near-annihiliation.
Stories have power.  This Thanksgiving, I encourage you: celebrate gratitude.  Celebrate love and family and plenty and wanting what you have.  These are good things to celebrate.  But don’t tell stories of peace and harmony when they are the exception that proves the rule of bloodshed and deception.  Don’t tell stories that implicitly justify seizure of property and empire-building.  That is an insult to history, and to countless dead Americans, and to the values of gratitude and harmony that the myth of the First Thanksgiving seeks to celebrate.
Instead, tell true stories–tell your stories.  Tell stories of triumphing over hard times, of teaching newcomers what you know, of accepting unexpected gifts with a humble heart.  Of playing games that challenge and inspire you, of embracing joy in the face of grief, of coming together with strange friends, of learning to want what you have.
The First Thanksgiving was an aberration.  But Americans have been giving thanks for generations, long before John Winthrop arrived to stake a claim on already-claimed property.  An Iroquois gratitude prayer gives thanks to all the things that make life liveable–from other people to the natural world that sustains us.  It includes a refrain, “Now our minds are one.”  This Thanksgiving, tell true stories that allow all our minds to be one.