Why Thanksgiving is Not a Celebration for Everyone
What the holiday means to the Indigenous
As with most holidays, the media, classrooms, and society in general push Thanksgiving as a fun celebration where everyone lays aside their differences and becomes one nation under God. Political divide? No problem! Racial unrest? Let’s just all get along…at least on the fourth Thursday of November! Even in 2020, with a deadly pandemic that breaks its own record of reported outbreaks every single day, people will pile into small houses later this month to fight over pumpkin pie and who gets to break the wishbone. Aside from the unrealistic expectations of a single day each year healing the familial, societal, religious, and racial divides among us, the portrayal of Thanksgiving in America is, dare I say it, kind of callous to some people.
Don’t get me wrong…I love Thanksgiving! But in order to fully observe it in the most empathetic way (since that’s exactly how we’re supposed to behave on that day!), maybe we should consider the following:
Did you know?
¶ November is National Native American Heritage Month
¶ Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for some native tribes. The National Day of Mourning is an annual protest organized since 1970 by Native Americans of New England on the fourth Thursday of November, the same day as Thanksgiving in the United States.
¶ American textbooks have grossly misled students on what went down between the early English settlers and the Native Americans during the time of “the first Thanksgiving.” Rather than the rosy picture teachers depict, what really happened was the brutal massacres of tribes such as the Pequot in the years that followed. The English settlers also stole from the Wampanoag graves and robbed the tribe to survive their first years in the new world.
¶ Native people consider Thanksgiving a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Yes…those construction paper “Indian” headdresses are cultural appropriation in its worst form.
¶ While Americans claim the invention of Thanksgiving, in truth, it was the Wampanoag who provided the food for the feast, as well as the teachings of hunting and agriculture. In fact, turkey, corn, wild rice, and beans are examples of foods the Native Americans introduced to the English.
¶ Many Native Americans do not celebrate Thanksgiving; however, many embrace the positive messages the holiday fosters. For a long time before the settlers arrived, Natives celebrated the autumn harvest and gift of Mother Earth’s abundance. The Native culture's spirituality underscores appreciation and gratitude for creation, the environment, and the unity between nature and humankind.
So are we supposed to shun the holiday altogether? Because honestly, I feel pretty low right now, and you might be feeling that way too.
Too many white people (and let’s face it, people in general) have either tried to ignore Natives or to speak for them for far too long. So I think it’s fitting to share an excerpt from the Native Hope website blog post called, “What Does Thanksgiving Mean to Native Americans?”
“Here at Native Hope, we hope that this Thanksgiving, the hearts of all people, Native and non-Native, are filled with hope, healing, and a desire to dismantle the barriers—physical, economic, educational, psychological, and spiritual— that divide us and oppress us.
This time of year, and these two holidays, Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day, give us the opportunity to reflect on our collective history and to celebrate the beauty, strength, and resilience of the Native tribes of North America.
We remember the generosity of the Wampanoag tribe to the helpless settlers.
We remember the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans who lost their lives at the hands of colonialists and the genocide of whole tribes.
We remember the vibrant and powerful Native descendants, families, and communities that persist to this day throughout the culture and the country.
We remember people like Sharice Davids and Debra Haaland who in 2018 became the first Native American women elected to Congress.”
This Thanksgiving, let’s all just take a moment to remember Native Americans as not only an integral, valuable part of American society but, quite frankly, the OG’s. Without them, we would never have become the thriving society we are because they taught our first people about medicine, cooking, harvesting, hunting, and so much more! We did them wrong. Plain and simple, and while we cannot correct the past, a little appreciation, recognition, and sensitivity from us now would probably go a long way from here on out.