Thanksgiving is a beautiful opportunity to enjoy good food and company with loved ones. The spirit of gratitude seems to emerge during this time, and presents everyone with an opportunity to reflect on the blessings of the past year. This essence of Thanksgiving should be the main focal point of everyone’s holiday however, because of human tendencies; this ideal unfortunately does not always come to fruition. It can actually be a painful reminder of broken relationships, lost loved ones, and experiences of isolation.
These examples of feelings around this holiday can be exceptionally resonant in Native American communities and households across the United States because of their lived reality of colonial violence. While European colonialism on this continent did not begin in 1621 around Plymouth, Massachusetts, the national feast exemplifies how there is a lack of willingness to come to terms with our country’s history of violence against Indigenous people.
. . . get to heart of what Thanksgiving should be about, deep gratitude for life’s blessings.
If the nation convinces itself that early relationships with Native Americans were mutually beneficial and amicable, how does that shape the way that we view all relationships with them that came afterward? The answer is, probably with bias and complete one-sidedness. Broken relationships, lost loved ones, and isolation are still realities that Indigenous people live with because of their mistreatment by, not only, European colonists, but also, the structures put into place that still remain today.
A brief disclaimer: I do not claim to know or even fully understand the breadth and depth of discomfort or pain this holiday can cause Indigenous folks. I am aware that the Native American community is not monolithic and that everyone has their own, individual opinion on the celebration of Thanksgiving. Some choose to protest it as a National Day of Mourning, others continue the tradition of giving thanks for a good harvest, and more just see it as a way to spend time with loved ones.
Stories often paint the “Pilgrims” in a more self-sufficient light, but without the Wampanoag’s generosity, there would be no story to tell.
However, after reading a myriad of Native voices generously writing about this topic, I am slowly growing in awareness of how the mythic narrative of the “First Thanksgiving” plays a wider role in the failure to learn and respect Native history and American colonialism’s attempts to erase and oppress Native Americans. The typical “First Thanksgiving” story romanticizes the relationship between the “Pilgrims” and Wampanoag tribe in a way that diminishes the power of the Wampanoags as a people. Stories often paint the “Pilgrims” in a more self-sufficient light, but without the Wampanoag’s generosity, there would be no story to tell.
According to the article “Deconstructing the Myths of ‘The First Thanksgiving‘” by Judy Dow (Abenaki), the details surrounding the infamous harvest feast speak to a part of American history that needs to be collectively addressed and reconciled with, at length.
For those who are non-Native, there is a moral responsibility to be educated about how American history has distorted, if not flat out erased, Native history—which has had real life consequences to Native Americans. This Thanksgiving I offer three questions to consider in an attempt to decolonize our holiday by using it as a way to uplift Native resilience.
- Where can we recognize acts of Indigenous resistance and resilience in our Thanksgiving practices?
- What do you know about the Native American tribe upon whose land you currently live?
- How can we support efforts to affirm the sovereignty of Indigenous nations?
This Thanksgiving season, I encourage everyone to be mindful of their practices so as not to perpetuate any harmful myths and to get to heart of what Thanksgiving should be about, deep gratitude for life’s blessings.