Thanksgiving: A Beloved Holiday with a Tragic Past

By: Sarah Daus, Co-Editor in Chief, Rosecall

Families all around America share a love for Thanksgiving. Everyone welcomes the chance to celebrate autumn with football games, turkey, and the beloved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Families travel to visit aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins; with everyone gathered around the table to share what they are thankful for and commemorate the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock to have a friendly feast with the Indians.

How much of the beloved holiday tradition of Thanksgiving has racist roots? Sadly, almost everything we teach to school age children about Thanksgiving is a lie.

For starters, there is little actual historical evidence about the original day of Thanksgiving. Though most of us remember fondly hearing Linus in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving narrate the story of how the Pilgrims and the Indians shared a lovely feast on the first ever Thanksgiving Day in 1621, most of the traditions and stories we tell about that day are just short of mythical. Thanksgiving is, in other words, another product of white and western culture reigning supreme.

American culture has long excluded the people who have been here the longest. Most textbooks teach very little (if anything!) about Native Americans. Often, the context is lacking. Maybe you remember learning the story of a white man “discovering” America, which was already heavily populated by indigenous peoples. Or maybe Lewis and Clark’s expedition rings a bell—helped along by an “Indian” girl.

Rarely do schools teach about the genocide that has been systematically committed against Native Americans and indigenous peoples. In recent news alone, the Washington Redskins still have a derogatory name as their mascot, and the media has moved on from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Students don’t hear about the Indian Removal Act, which was signed into law by Andrew Jackson against the wishes of the Cherokee people. Residential schools are never mentioned—so white children grow up believing that Native Americans and Pilgrims were cordial—when, in reality, Christians came to America and did everything they could (including systematic, government sanctioned genocide) to convert Natives to their religion. The refusal to teach about these topics, and the lack of information available on them, is due to the erasure of Native culture that has been happening since Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

The story of Pilgrims and Indians is a western story. It is unique to the westernized world to teach generations and generations of children that Pilgrims and Indians had a happy Thanksgiving feast without teaching them the true history of the crusading pilgrims. It is unique to the white world to teach stories of Native people while ignoring the Native people that still exist and have a right to be recognized.

For Native Americans, the story of their lives and their culture is one rarely shared without remembering the stories of the past. Some native tribes spend Thanksgiving Day celebrating, while others consider it a Day of Mourning. This Thanksgiving, I ask you to do some research about Native Americans and share what you learn with your families. None of us can make up for the years and years of genocide, whitewashing, misrepresentation, and underrepresentation, but we can begin by being more educated.

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