How We Gave ‘Thanks’ To Native Americans: Broken Treaties And Genocide

I’m guessing that you, along with most of us, learned the story of the first Thanksgiving in school. We were told that the Native Americans (who were called “Indians” in our history books) were essential to the survival of the early Pilgrims. When the Piligrims had their first bountiful harvest, they invited their Native American friends over for dinner and a celebration of their good fortune in the new world. It’s a great story. It makes us feel good as Americans when we hear it.

Unfortunately, it’s also a historical fiction. It didn’t happen the way we were told in our formative years. But hey, pass the turkey!

How did we really “thank” Native Americans for the kindness they showed us? Well, we took their land, declared war on them, broke virtually every treaty we made with them, committed genocide against them, and then put them on reservations where they would be out of the way while America continued its relentless march to greatness.

How’s that for “American exceptionalism?”

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land…Scratch That, It’s ALL MINE!

In 1829, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Government could sell Native American land to non-Native people without the approval of the Native American tribes who would be directly affected. That one wrong decision by the high court led directly to the so-called the “Doctrine of Discovery.” And that doctrine established the legal framework for taking land from aboriginals living on it because it had been “discovered” by the white man.

In other words, it goes kinda like this: Do you live here? Not now. Get the hell outta here. This belongs to white folks, and we intend to keep it.

The Ugly Stain of Cultural Genocide

Natives were seen as savages when they dared to fight back against the government attempting to steal their land, kill their people, and force them to move.

Therefore, the “savages” had to be reeducated. Not a problem for the American government, which set up boarding schools where Native American children were sent and taught how to be Christian and more like the white conquerors.

Murder and the Other Genocide

From the moment the Europeans arrived among the Native peoples, the Natives began to die from diseases they had never known before: smallpox, measles, and other horrible things that had been brought over by the new arrivals from across the sea.

Not to mention the mass killings of Native Americans which were condoned and encouraged by the United States government. Within a few decades, the overall population of Native Americans had decreased by an astonishing 96 percent.

American historian David Stannard noted in his book American Holocaust that the complete annihilation of the Native Americans from 76 million on both American continents to just slightly over a quarter-million “in a string of genocide campaigns,” that killed “countless tens of millions” remains far and away the largest genocide in world history.

So as we sit down to our turkey and other trimmings this Thanksgiving, keep in mind that the Native Americans–who were here long before we ever arrived–are not nearly as thankful as we are. How in the world could they be?

This article was originally published by the same author at

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