You can take the snow-topped Swiss Alps, the azure seas of the French Riviera, the wide-open vistas of the African veldt. For my money, there is nowhere on Earth prettier than Maine in September and October. Nowhere.

I am so very thankful that this is my home.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Which is most appropriate given that Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

I have a deep, deep love of the holiday. My early memories are filled with construction paper pilgrim hats, extra helpings of grandma’s mashed potatoes, laughing with cousins as we sat around the kids’ table, and pie. Lots of pie.

If you are of a certain age, the odds are good you grew up learning “the story of the first Thanksgiving.” Like the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s one of those things that was repeated so often it’s just engraved in your consciousness. And it’s such a great story! Two cultures coming together for a day of feasting and celebration – it is Disney-level heartwarming.

The myth, though, wildly simplifies the often violent interactions between the indigenous nations and Europeans and also creates a false context, sometimes making it seem as though the “Thanksgiving” gathering was a first meeting, a new beginning. However, as explored in Smithsonian’s article on the research of David Silverman, “Wampanoags had a century of contact with Europeans – it was bloody and it involved slave raiding by Europeans. At least two and maybe more Wampanoags, when the Pilgrims arrived, spoke English, had already been to Europe and back and knew the very organizers of the Pilgrims’ venture.”

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It hurts to let go of the beautiful lie. Doubly so because the historical truth is so grim and filled with violence and death. The thing is, though, wanting something to be true does not make it so.

What then are we to do with this holiday?

Speaking for myself, I am not ready to give it up. I think there is enormous value in setting aside a day to count blessings and give thanks. And again, pie. I really like pie.

So the question then becomes, how can I (or we) do it better?

The first step is to let the lie go, and learn the actual history. I know. It’s hard. But it is necessary.

“If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving,” a children’s book by Chris Newell, a Passamaquoddy educator, is a fantastic starting point. It gives a historically accurate account, not only of the first Thanksgiving but of the historical events and societal shifts leading up to it. A worthy addition to the family bookcase.

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From there, why not explore some other ways to celebrate while expanding your cultural awareness? You might consider a donation to the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, or more directly to Wabanaki REACH. Both are excellent organizations offering education and on-the-ground work.

Interested in adding some indigenous foods to the Thanksgiving meal? The website culturalsurvival.org has a great page, “8 Ways to Decolonize Thanksgiving,” with links to recipes and interviews with Indigenous chefs.

The same site has conversations with community leaders on topics of both historical and contemporary importance, music, literature and links to indigenous artists. There are tons of really exciting and interesting new things to learn about.

I know this cultural reckoning is uncomfortable. I do. And I know letting go of a childhood story is hard.

But, here’s the thing: The whole point of the story we were told as kids is the beauty of two cultures coming together in peace and celebration, right? Amazingly, by letting go of the lie in our history, we can start to write a new future in which it becomes real in the here and now.

I think that’s amazing.

It won’t be instant, it won’t be easy, and it won’t erase the past, but it can be the beginning. I am committed to continuing to learn, ask lots of questions, listen more than I speak, and change the way I understand the world around me – on this one holiday in particular.

We have so much for which to be thankful, this new chance at a real Thanksgiving not least of all.

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