Though the first proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving made by a president was George Washington’s soon after the passage of the constitution, the holiday was celebrated on a regional level, and haphazardly for the first century of the nation’s independence.
So we are here reproducing two statements to gives us some perspective on the meaning of the holiday and our shared history. The first is President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of thanksgiving. Though such proclamations had been made by previous presidents, including George Washington, it was this federal proclamation in 1863 which marked the beginning of the modern holiday. In the midsts of the violent Civil War, and at a time of great suffering and division, Lincoln asked the nation to set aside a day to remember our blessings and give thanks.
The second selection is a proclamation sent from Alcatraz Island during the Native American occupation in 1969. That year, after several attempts to claim the island were halted by the Coast Guard, a group of Indians of All Tribes (IAT) arrived on November 20 to begin a 14 month occupation of the island. This year also marks the establishment of what was later known as Unthanksgiving day, a day to mark the broken treaties between Native Americans by the United States government, which includes the painting of Plymouth Rock red. The proclamation was issued to announce the island’s occupation. You can also watch a video of a recent sunrise “Unthanksgiving” ceremony on Alcatraz, where each year hundreds return to the Rock to remember the event. The ceremony was broadcast live this morning on KPFA community radio.
We believe that it merits reading these texts and thinking over what it means to give thanks as individuals and as a nation in this time of division and anxious anticipation. We at The Mendocino Voice are thankful for many things, but perhaps above all, for our readers, so we wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving, and many returns.
President Lincoln in November, 1963.
By the President of the United States of America
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A. D. 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
Proclamation to the Great White Father and All His People
We, the native Americans, re-claim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery.
We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty:
We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for twenty-four dollars ($24) in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these 16 acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years. Our offer of $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47¢ per acre that the white men are now paying the California Indians for their land. We will give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of that land for their own, to be held in trust by the American Indian Affairs [sic] and by the bureau of Caucasian Affairs to hold in perpetuity—for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea. We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. We offer this treaty in good faith and wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with all white men.
We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable for an Indian Reservation, as determined by the white man’s own standards. By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations in that:
It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.
It has no fresh running water.
It has inadequate sanitation facilities.
There are no oil or mineral rights.
There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.
There are no health care facilities.
The soil is rocky and non-productive; and the land does not support game.
There are no educational facilities.
The population has always exceeded the land base.
The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.
Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.
From the Indians of All Tribes announcing the occupation of Alcatraz Island, November 20, 1969.