Let’s Talk About the Real History of Thanksgiving This Year

Most people of color in the United States realize that Thanksgiving is a wildly problematic celebration of the exploitation and genocide of native peoples, yet many of us still celebrate it

Thanksgiving Indigenous History

Photo: Unsplash/Cristian Newman

Most people of color in the United States realize that Thanksgiving is a wildly problematic celebration of the exploitation and genocide of native peoples, yet many of us still celebrate it. For lots of people of color, Thanksgiving has become less of a celebration of the pilgrims and more of a celebration of family and gratitude…and that’s ok. But we would be seriously remiss if we don’t also take a moment to acknowledge the hundreds of years of struggles that the indigenous populations of the Americas have faced since the moment the first colonizer stepped foot on native land.

The real history of the murder, enslavement, and eventual displacement of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans is not something we are taught in school. It is legitimately infuriating that the narrative spun to our youngest and most impressionable population is false and so sugar-coated that we have them dressing up turkeys in pilgrim outfits and think it’s acceptable to co-opt indigenous culture with sacred headdresses and other ceremonial garbs that should be pretty much exclusively reserved for Native Americans.

I understand that some children are too young to really understand what went down at the start of our nation and the horror that this country was built on. But they’re never too little to understand that the Pilgrims were not very nice to the Native Americans and that even though the Natives shared and tried to help them, the Pilgrims decided to take everything for themselves and be selfish and mean. See how easy that was to put into language even a child could understand?

It’s the total dedication to the white-washing and sanitation of our history that has kept us from making real progress in the country. That willful ignorance is what lead to declarations of a “post-racial” America after President Obama’s election. So, instead of pretending like everything about the holiday is celebratory, let’s take the chance to learn and face up to the real history of the holiday. The very first Thanksgiving was celebrated in Berkley Bay, Virginia, when a shipload of colonizers arrived from Europe on November 28, 1619, after having survived a particularly brutal two-and-a-half month long journey. It was celebrated without much fanfare and definitely no decadent feast. They simply got down on their knees and prayed, giving thanks for their safe arrival.

The Thanksgiving day narrative we are taught about pilgrims and Plymouth Rock is based on the much darker history of the massacre of 700 Wampanoag tribe members in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. It was basically a celebration by Europeans of the successful conquering and murder of native peoples. It did not occur at Plymouth rock and no pleasantries were exchanged between the colonizers and the Native Americans.

There are lots of ways to incorporate and acknowledge the pain of the Native people of the Americas into the day with your family. You can read up and educate yourself about the true history and origins of the United States and discuss it with your family, you can create a space for your family and other people of color to talk about the difficulties they are dealing with right now, or you can create care packages for native peoples on reservations who have so little resources (particularly the school children).

For a lot of people of color, existence IS resistance and any moment we have right now to capture and share joy with loved ones should be deeply appreciated and held sacred. Latinxs in particular share lots of history with indigenous populations, as so many of us are mixed/mestiza and have indigenous blood. I’m not telling you not to enjoy sharing a meal with friends and family, I’m just saying let’s not ignore or allow the powers that be to erase the true history of pain and suffering behind this holiday. I’m grateful for the fact that so many of us refuse to stay blind and silent to the pain of those around us.

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History indigenous Native American people of color racism Thanksgiving United States
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