While trawling through the Digital Gallery’s large section on Thanksgiving, I found this great color postcard that was printed around 1908 or 1908. First of all, I love the word pun. For many years, I used to work out at my local gym in a tee shirt that read “Don’t Worry, Be Hopi” that I’d bought from an Indian arts shop on Second Mesa.
November is Native American Heritage Month. So we should take a moment to recall all the important contributions that our indigenous peoples have made to our society. And if you have forgotten any of them, there’s Jack Weatherford’s classic Indian Givers to remind you of their great number. Frankly, Thanksgiving and Columbus Day are not Native Americans’ favorite holidays. The story of the Pilgrims and their friendly Indian hosts sitting down for a happy meal has been roundly debunked. Yet Native cultures regularly employ their own versions of thanks giving around harvests and other gatherings.
Inevitably, our popular culture has established an “ideal” for this holiday. The image of the grateful family, with a full complement of multi-generational members, gathered around a table loaded with traditional fixings (all that starch, all those calories) often represents an unattainable or unrealistic portrait of American life. Nowadays, the most we really hear about the holiday is a media report on all the bad traffic to expect. Or how some celebrity took time to serve food at a soup kitchen. One book published in the same year as this postcard shows how the holiday became established the way we know it. And a more recent publication brings us up to date with Thanksgiving: an American holiday, an American history.
The Hopis in the postcard would be bemused by all this. They live in a beautiful and harsh environment where they’ve mastered a form of dry irrigation that allows them to grow crops. They’d always be grateful for the bounty their hard labor produced. Perhaps it’s the Native concept of “thanksgiving” we should celebrate, and not the artificial construct of gobbling down a huge, enforced meal...