How Should We Celebrate Thanksgiving?

I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving. Being able to come together with my family and have a nice sit-down meal is always great. And, of course, the food is amazing. I mean, when else during the year can I eat an insane amount of my mom’s baked carrots and choose from not one, not two, but four different kinds of pie for dessert? Exactly, never!

However, this is also a time in which I remember the bloody and violent history behind the treatment of Native Americans on Thanksgiving. The truth is that Europeans began systematically killing Native Americans in an act of genocide. They used both physical and biological warfare (in the form of infected smallpox blankets) against Native populations. It is estimated that up to 114,000,000 Natives were killed. The violence of those who colonized the Americas was followed by decades of systematic oppression of Native Americans, which still exists today. This was in the form of suppression of language and culture, lack of opportunities, erasure of history, and forced movement of Native Americans into reservations. In fact, the very act of repressing this violence in the history books is a form of violence against Native Americans today.

Looking back, I am simultaneously entertained and horrified by what we were taught in elementary school about Thanksgiving. I’m amused by the cutesy plays and crafts that children make and completely horrified by the fact that an entire segment of history is ignored and made out to be the exact opposite of what it is. And, unfortunately, many places in America don’t do anything to rectify this misinformation and people go into adulthood thinking carrying that childhood idea of “everyone sat around a table and ate food and we all got along forever”.  Now, I was lucky enough to have teachers in high school who told me the truth and educated me:

 “Everything you learned in elementary school about how the Native Americans were treated is wrong. Here’s what actually happened.”

Knowing the truth, how does one still celebrate Thanksgiving?

There are various ways you can be mindful, but still acknowledge the holiday. You can still enjoy the food, eating with your family, and talk about things you’re thankful for. In addition, I make sure I stay informed (not just on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year) on issues that befall the Native American community. I am active in trying to cause a positive change. This can be through monetary donations to places that actually donate all the proceeds to affected groups, making calls to congress-people during protests such as the one against the Dakota Access Pipeline, or doing my best to amplify Native voices when people won’t listen to them.

But first, people need to be educated on the actual history. There can be no change if people don’t believe there is an issue in the first place.