Who to credit for annual celebration of thanks?Claiming that Christopher Columbus discovered America is a little like saying that Col. Sanders discovered chicken. It’s not quite true.
By: Kevin Holten, The Dickinson Press
Claiming that Christopher Columbus discovered America is a little like saying that Col. Sanders discovered chicken. It’s not quite true. Especially since Columbus was actually on his way to India at the time and somehow ended up in the Bahamas, which is a little like going from Cleveland to Honolulu via Moscow and stopping in Anchorage for a cold beer. But hey, he was only 8,400 miles off the mark and I’m guessing it was about that same time that he gave up on his plans to open a navigational school when he got back to Spain.
In the meantime, what did he tell his sailors? “Ok boys, about that vacation in India, I think I’ve found a better spot.”
It’s also interesting to note that research indicates there may have been as many as 112 million Native Americans already residing on America soils when he landed in the Bahamas. So it’s a little hard for me to label our little Italian buddy as a “discoverer” since that’s a pretty long line to be at the end of, though it is about the same length as your average grocery store line in Los Angeles.
Now, if you want to christen him the first directionally challenged Italian working for a Spanish queen to run his boat into a Bahamian island, then I can agree to that, no problem.
Meanwhile, he could have taken advantage of the situation and been the first European to celebrate Thanksgiving on American soil, excluding Leif Erikson, if he’d played his cards right. But instead he left that for the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians to do some 200 years later. Though there are people who think that British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Va. were really the first to stuff Grandma’s favorite dressing recipe into some poor fowl to show their gratitude, but let’s not nitpick.
Meanwhile, Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans to the Americas. So let’s not claim the holiday as some European creation, since it was clearly an ongoing event that the new settlers were simply invited to.
Of course, what bothers me most about that first Thanksgiving is that everything started off so well and then the new kids on the block began planning ways to exterminate their hosts during dessert and nearly accomplished the task a mere 400 years later.
Yet, believe it or not, these were not the first Native Americans to be shoved out of the Americas. In fact, our own American Indians had already wiped out another Native American race long before our directionally challenged Italian buddy ran his yacht into his new Bahaman vacation spot.
That’s right. American Aborigines (cousins to the Australian Aborigines) are thought to have crossed the Pacific Ocean and arrived in South America long before the ancestors of today’s American Indians came here. And it’s these American Aborigines that overspread much of South America and part of North America before being nearly exterminated by American Indian invaders from the north.
You see, American Indians, scientists claim, began as Asian nomads and entered the Americas via the Bering Strait some 47,000 to 14,000 years ago according to genetic evidence found in maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA.
Meanwhile, evidence of the American aboriginal settlement, the first Native Americans, comes to us from cave paintings in Serra de Capivara National Park in Brazil. These paintings, which archaeologists claim are older than the arrival of the Siberian, American Indians, to the area, are in a style not seen elsewhere in Native American art. And researchers point out that the physical traits of human remains found at the South American sites, and their tool-making technology, matches that of the Aboriginal culture.
In fact, the rites shown in the paintings, involving elaborate costumes, are still performed by Australian Aborigines today. And similar rites existed in the traditions of the natives of Tierra del Fuego, in the southern most tip of South America, until the Fuegians almost ceased to exist as a people in the 20th century mostly due to diseases brought on by the Europeans. Fuegians are believed to be the product of intermarriage between American Aborigines and American Indians and are the last surviving descendants of the Aboriginal settlers. Today there is only one woman still alive in Tierra del Fuego who is a descendant of the Fuegians and therefore also the last descendant of the Australian Aborigines who are the first to settle the Americas.
So, the fact is, Europeans may not have been the first people to scheme against their hosts during a Thanksgiving dessert. Proving that, sometimes, what goes around comes around.
— Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation’s communications director.