Deconstructing the Myth of Thanksgiving
Yes, you can celebrate the holiday AND care about the history behind it.
CREDIT: Quincy Walters | WBUR
Thanksgiving, like many other holidays, has become about celebrating for the sake of celebration rather than caring about any of the original reasons behind the day’s observation. Most of us see Thanksgiving as a day of being grateful, spending time with loved ones and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The last thing on our minds during our obligatory family dinner is the myth of the “pilgrims and Indians” we were spoon-fed in kindergarten. While the exchange of the holiday’s imperialist roots for more wholesome traditions is a step forward, we should still understand the nuances of celebrating on stolen land. As uncomfortable as it might be, it's important to remember the long history this country has of oppressing and persecuting Indigenous people, especially on a day that is touted as a symbol of unity between colonizers and Native Americans.
The last Thursday in November is traditionally known as the day of Thanksgiving in the United States, but it is also known as the National Day of Mourning. This began in 1970 when the United American Indians of New England protested the holiday and demanded recognition of their genocide and oppression. Some Native Americans prefer to memorialize their ancestors and their peoples’ struggles on this day and others may choose to have the typical feast with family and friends, but many find themselves somewhere in between. It’s a painful reminder of the persecution and discrimination they have faced for centuries, but it can also be a day to be together with your community and show gratitude to those around you. Indigenous people are most definitely not a monolith, so their perspectives on the holiday will vary. Kasey Salois, a 24-year-old with Blackfeet and Little Shell heritage, says, “Thanksgiving may have started out with the pilgrims, but we have made it our own. We can't change the past but we can't let it define us either. This holiday is less about celebrating the past for us and more about celebrating what we have and what we can look forward to. We do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and we have a lot to be thankful for.” Jason Rosette, a 45-year-old from the Chippewa Cree tribe, says, “Thanksgiving means eating with your family, and because of that, I'm grateful. But I feel the truth needs to be told about how America was really founded. It was founded on the murder of my ancestors and the robbery of our land. The only way we can overcome historical trauma is by teaching the truth in schools.” David Coldwell, a 63-year-old from the Blackfeet tribe, says, “I used to celebrate, but I no longer will. Had I known the real history, I never would've celebrated. I didn't learn the truth in history class growing up. Native Americans weren't talked about.”
Indigenous people should not be expected to celebrate or to comfort those who celebrate a day that is so heavily laced with generations of trauma. They should also be allowed to partake in traditional Thanksgiving activities without being criticized.
If you are not Indigenous, then it is not your place to speak on how this marginalized group should feel about or react to a nationwide celebration at their expense.
If we’re being realistic, Thanksgiving is rarely celebrated for traditional reasons anymore — and for good reason. There is nothing about colonization and mass genocide worth celebrating, so enjoy your food binge, days off from school and Black Friday shopping simply because you deserve to. Shifting our focus away from the colonial history forced on us by our education system and instead toward celebrating whatever we value is a good thing. But remember to be conscious of the complex and painful history behind why this holiday exists.
Emilia Cardenas-Perez is an online and print writer for Rowdy Magazine. She enjoys fruit bowls, mafia movies, online shopping and ranting about her thoughts on niche subjects. You can reach her on Instagram @emiliaaandreaa or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.