Thanksgiving: A One-Sided Story

By Ebenezer Nkunda

What do you know about Thanksgiving?

There are always two sides to a story. However, in regards to Thanksgiving, American citizens are taught a one-sided history. The vast majority of our cultural understanding and history of thanksgiving derived directly from the perspective of white colonialists who landed close to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620. In this version of the Thanksgiving story, the holiday commemorates the peaceful, friendly meeting of English settlers and the Algonquin tribe; celebrating with three days of feasting and thanksgiving in 1621. The version of the Thanksgiving story that is most commonly told instills an image of heroic, Christian settlers coping with the perils of the New World—and with the assistance of some friendly Natives— discovering a pathway to a new life and community.

 When nearing the time of Thanksgiving, many teachers and institutions focus in on this happy story, resulting in students crafting “Indian headdresses” out of paper and holding Thanksgiving reenactments in their lecture rooms.

Very few teachers understand that construction headdresses and  re-enactments produce a stereotype that Native Americans all wear equivalent regalia. These activities conjointly encourage young students to assume it’s okay to wear culture like they are playing dress-up, making it extremely difficult for them to understand the range and complexity of the culture of Native American tribes. They normalize the mimicry of Native wear, traditions, and culture— never understanding its religious significance.

 Very few teachers inform students of the massacres of Native tribes, such as that of the Pequot that occurred within the years following colonists’ arrival. Our education and culture fails to accept that English settlers robbed Algonquin graves and stole food to simply survive the first couple years on this new continent. There are a number of the explanations why Thanksgiving could be considered a complex holiday and one that every American needs  to approach with larger sensitivity. It’s necessary to understand that for many Native Americans. Thanksgiving could be a day of mourning and protest since it commemorates the arrival of settlers in North America and the centuries of oppression that followed. Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the murder of Natives, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in the National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples. It is okay to celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a holiday that has been a tradition in American culture for years, and to American citizens, is no different than any other celebration; however, just know what you are celebrating, because to our Natives peers it is not just a day. Everyday is a day of remembrance and protest of the lives and land that were taken.

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