Growing up in a primarily Sinti household, I didn’t learn that much about Native American culture or our Maskókî relatives. Regardless, my family never celebrated Thanksgiving. Sometimes we’d enjoy dinner with members of our extended family if they were in town. However, from an early age I was taught the brutal truth about Thanksgiving Day.
Because I never grew up with Muscogee culture, learned any of the Muscogee languages, nor have I ever been claimed by any Native American tribe, I myself am not Native American. Regardless, my parents were as diligent as any non-Native guardians when educating me about Native American history, which is why I choose not to celebrate a holiday that’s based on falsehoods. After all, disseminating falsehoods is on each and every one of us. (Don’t worry, I’m not repressed because I never got to stuff my face with turkey and cranberries once a year.)
Though most Americans think Thanksgiving celebrates the infamous day in history when — in 1621— Puritan Pilgrims (who weren’t even really pilgrims to begin with) welcomed Wampanoag Native Americans to enjoy a gargantuan feast with them, this simply isn’t the case.
Many scholars argue that 1621 didn’t ignite the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans observe today. Although 1637 might not seem like an important date in American history, this is when the brunt of the
Pequot War Pequot Massacre took place. Then Massachusetts Governor, John Winthrop, also declared this year the first official “Day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.”
Thus, Thanksgiving was born after the
original illegal European immigrants committed genocide on Pequot Native Americans (who were just defending their property) and enslaved the “lucky” few who survived the massacre.
Unfortunately, the Pequot Massacre isn’t the only travesty that the Puritans afflicted onto Native American communities on Thanksgiving (not to mention the other 364 days of the year). However, present-day Americans have cherry-picked the “good” parts about past Thanksgiving celebrations to create a pleasant narrative of the holiday.
Now, Americans paint the false picture that Thanksgiving began in 1621 when the Pilgrims and Native Americans got along. During present-day celebrations, there’s never any mention of the smallpox that these same Pilgrim gave the Wampanoag Native Americans shortly after this joyous day in 1621. (Nor is there any acknowledgment that in the Puritans’ quest for “religious freedom,” they stole the liberty and freedom of millions of Native Americans.)
This whitewashed version of Thanksgiving history doesn’t even begin to describe the injustices Native American communities have suffered. Seeing as Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day an official national holiday in 1863. However, Lincoln betrayed Sioux Native Americans after each respective party had already agreed on two territory treaties in 1851. Because Lincoln is known for his fight to abolish slavery, his reputation as a revolutionary president overshadowed the fact that he lied (after all, how could honest Abe lie to anyone?) to the Sioux Native Americans and only gave them half of the land that was originally promised to them — which wasn’t even the worse thing he did to Native Americans. Not only did honest Abe’s deception revoke their rights to property that should have been theirs to begin with, his seemingly spotless image nearly erased this necessary narrative from history.
But why does this gruesome back story matter, especially if we “celebrate” Thanksgiving for different reasons today? Although we might currently celebrate Thanksgiving to “give thanks,” we shouldn’t forget why Thanksgiving was originally established.
While we’d like to think the meaning of Thanksgiving has changed just because many have forgotten about these murders, this doesn’t change the crimes that the Puritans committed against Native American citizens. Nor should we feed ourselves lies that we’re celebrating Thanksgiving to give thanks and celebrate our gratitude.
While many people (who aren’t history buffs or Native American citizens) have easily forgotten Thanksgiving’s gruesome origins, that doesn’t mean we should blindly change the meaning of Thanksgiving to make it seem like a peaceful affair. (Because it obviously wasn’t, and it shouldn’t be celebrated as such.)
It’s 2017 and Native American citizens still aren’t treated equally. We’re still hijacking (and polluting) Native Americans’ property and killing Native American citizens, yet we lie to ourselves and say that Thanksgiving is an inclusive holiday.
thanksgiving role play where u r a pilgrim and i make u watch a pbs doc on colonialism and u say sorry but it’s too late i’m throwing corns at u already and u bruise easily so
— palomo (@imstressica) November 19, 2017
Honestly, any form of celebration seems insensitive on Thanksgiving Day, but it’s even more offensive that the US celebrates this day during Native American Heritage Month. If we truly want to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, then Thanksgiving Day should be renamed and utilized as a day to observe and respect all of the fallen Native Americans during the Europeans’ genocidal tirade.
It might not be a bad idea to show your gratitude for your life and everyone in your life every day—rather than using a historically inaccurate holiday to give thanks once a year as a day off work and school to spend time with your family.
It might not be a bad idea to show your gratitude for your life and everyone in your life every day—rather than using a historically inaccurate holiday to give thanks once a year as a day off work and school to spend time with your family. Omit the “need” for Thanksgiving by giving your family a new and more respectful tradition and give thanks to Native American communities by donating to a Native American organization.
Sure, you could always blame the tryptophan from your turkey as to why you’re asleep about changing your Thanksgiving traditions. However, because your “family has always celebrated Thanksgiving,” shouldn’t be an excuse to continue to celebrate this occasion blindly and to fall back on a dangerous, revisionist myth. Tradition isn’t a valid reason to continue to do or celebrate something without thinking critically about it.