Happy/Sad Thanksgiving Day 2008 from Cape Cod, Where It All Began

Dennis Byron

This is my annual "personal" blog post, which I permit myself because I live near where the U.S. Thanksgiving tradition began.


But if you make it to the end of this post, you will find there is an IT connection.



Kids on Beach

The rock that my grandchildren are standing on in this picture from last summer is not Plymouth Rock. But it is on a beach along which the first English colonists in this area sailed in 1620, according to their records, looking for the harbor they finally found in Plymouth. The colonists possibly even walked along here in 1620, but it wouldn't have taken them long to realize that that big sand bar in the background of the kids' picture would make it hard to get from their ship, the Mayflower, to the shore.


In addition, I am definitely not a Mayflower descendant. Most of my ancestors were growing potatoes and stealing each others' cows in Ireland at the time of the first Thanksgiving. Because they are mostly "Western Irish," unlike the Cape Cod Native Americans (called Indians by the politically and geographically incorrect), the colonization of my ancestors' lands by the English had not yet officially begun at the time of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. The official colonization of Ireland by the English did not start until 1650, although they and the Scots had been encroaching since the 1500s.


The Thanksgiving Holiday Connection


This week, because I was passing through and not because of any particular Irish-Indian anti-English-colonialism affinity, I stopped for breakfast at a welcoming "townie" breakfast place in Mashpee, where many of the remaining Native Americans on Cape Cod proper still live. I thought I'd mingle in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. I say Cape Cod proper because there is also a Native American village on the island of Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod's south shore. Mashpee is on the south (that is, the "protected") side of Cape Cod; the Native Americans obviously knew something about which way the tides ran and the winds blew, and where the fish were. I live and fish on the north side; I think it's my Irish ancestry.


For our non-U.S. readers that don't get the connection between all of this and the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, it was the Cape Cod Native Americans that "greeted" the first European immigrants to land in this part of North America (if you want to call running away after being shot at a "greeting"). The colonists, now commonly called the Pilgrims, landed first on Cape Cod and shortly thereafter moved 30 miles across the bay to North America proper in what is now called Plymouth Harbor, named in honor of the English town from which they had sailed.


The first winter (December 1620-March 1621) was hell for the Europeans. About half of them died. But with the help of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (also according to the Pilgrims records), the colonists planted in the spring, had a good harvest and celebrated by feasting with the tribe "to give Thanksgiving" sometime in September-October 1621 after the crops came in.


They certainly would not have feasted in late November. Although today is a typical late autumn day on Cape Cod with a skim of ice on the ponds to start with and a likely high temperature 3 C degrees (about freezing), in past years I have dug my way out of two feet of snow on Thanksgiving in order to get to grandmother's house. (Of course, I've also played golf some Thanksgivings before going to grandmother's house.)


As a sign of how things have changed on Cape Cod in the last almost 400 years, despite its outward appearance to me as I drove through, the welcoming breakfast place in the "Mashpee Indian village" was a Dunkin' Donuts. It was welcoming, though.


The IT Connection


As I promised, there is a real IT connection to this blog post. One of the leading Mashpee "chiefs" (actually called President) was the late Russ Peters, a marketing manager at Honeywell back when the idea of marketing IT had just begun. He had worked for IBM before Honeywell, I believe. He left Honeywell in 1974 (where he regularly beat me in the golf league) to work on various Native American affairs full time.


Here are his bittersweet Thanksgiving comments from 1998 on what the Wampanoag call the National Day of Mourning (instead of Thanksgiving). I say bittersweet because Peters said in these comments that the original Thanksgiving did prove that everyone could get along for at least one generation.


What Goes Around Comes Around


The ultimate irony is that because the U.S. Federal government recognized the Wampanoag as a tribe in 2006, 30 years after Peters began his effort to get the recognition (and after he passed away in 2002), everyone here on Cape Cod with the remotest DNA link to the tribe now wants to be considered a Native American.


The tribe had 800 recognized members when he started working on Native American affairs in 1974; that number has grown to around 1,500 by 2,000 and another 2,000 or so are on the waiting list to be "voted in." That's because - also for the benefit of our non-U.S. readers - with U.S. Federal tribal recognition comes ownership of legal gambling via casinos funded (to really close the circle of oppressed people) by South Africans.

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