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Thanksgiving’s Violent History and the Consequences of Colonization

With Thanksgiving coming up, many of us are thinking about all the turkey, pie, and stuffing we’re about to consume in honor of the peaceful meal the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared.

However, this pleasant tale we’ve been taught since grade school isn’t the whole story as many of us now know. We now know that it wasn’t this happy story that adults spun for us but one of genocide and lies. And while most of us do acknowledge it, it doesn’t change the fact that year after year we continue to celebrate the holiday.

The long and violent history of this holiday between settlers and indigenous people can’t be all encompassed in one article, but I strive to make you all think a little bit harder when you’re at home with your families and saying what you’re thankful for.

Native people have always been viewed as savage, barbarous, and uncivilized in the eyes of the Pilgrims, and they are frequently portrayed as such when telling the story of Thanksgiving. The truth is, Native people were not ‘uncivilized.’ Just because their way of living doesn’t fit Western ideals doesn’t mean they weren’t functional and prosperous in their own manner. Pilgrims didn’t find a vast wilderness waiting to be domesticated and transformed, civilization was just as rich in ancient America as it was in Europe. 

Whitewashing of Thanksgiving isn’t a new concept. We’ve all heard the stories they teach in school and from our parents about how the settlers saved Native people when in reality, they had to save the Pilgrims. And in the end, they were still faced with violence.

Green Orange and Yellow Pumpkins

It goes further than just Thanksgiving, too. It extends to all the states, cities, counties, and other landmarks that pay homage to indigenous tribes while also corralling those still-existing tribes into reservations and infringing on their land rights again. It extends to all the professional sports teams who use derogatory terms like Redskins, Chiefs, and Blackhawks for mascots without reallocating any money to Native tribes. Consequences are still very real and impact Native lives outside of the context of Thanksgiving.

The stories that insist on peaceful agreements between Europeans and Native Americans are not only false but harmful. They extend colonialism today, erasing the history of indigenous groups by not addressing the genocide and relocation of millions of Native people.

So when you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this year, think of all the harm and violence that resulted because of it. This is not our land, and it’s important to remember the truth and real history of our country.


Brianne is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in Human Physiology and minoring in French. In addition to writing for Her Campus, Brianne is also a member of the Campus Activities Board. Brianne enjoys traveling, rewatching New Girl, drinking coffee, and yelling while she watches hockey games among other sports. She hopes to share her personal experiences, learn new things from others, and build connections.
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