It’s gobble season. In homes across America, delectable pumpkin-spiced aromas waft through the spirited air as families congregate to exchange happy memories and, of course, share the awkward tension of annual family gatherings. Nevertheless, families unite on this momentous occasion to celebrate love and express appreciation for their good fortunes. Yet, as joyous and full-bellied as these festivities may be, Thanksgiving calls for a quick history lesson. Well, it’s actually not quick, nor is it a lesson. It is the horrific, long-neglected, whited-out truth.
Thanksgiving is a holiday born from the genocide of millions of Indigenous people. I know it sounds brutal, and the word “genocide” makes neocolonialists squirm in the discomfort of unaccountability. Do not worry–there lies a simple explanation for Thanksgiving and a simple way to spread the truth.
Here is a summation of Thanksgiving’s origins: after religious separatists (Puritans) came to America, they decided that they were inherently superior to all the people currently residing in the New World and decided to pillage, massacre, and take advantage of the peaceful Natives. After destroying most of the Massachusetts tribes’ populations with smallpox, they returned and met a Patuxet Indian named Squanto who found it in his heart to help these helpless white people dying of pestilence and starvation. He taught them the basics of fishing, hunting, and harvesting while also negotiating a unilateral peace treaty with the Wampanoag Natives. Over the years, violence and land encroachment continued as the Puritans stole many Natives as slaves and prisoners to England. In 1637, they returned to a Pequot village of 700 men, women, and children, as the Pequots joined together to celebrate the Green Corn Festival. Before dawn could strike, English and Dutch mercenaries struck, murdering countless, unarmed innocents, before burning the rest of the sleeping 700 Natives in their sleep. Upon this horrendous “victory,” the Massachusetts Bay Colony governor declared the day as “A Day of Thanksgiving,” as he would declare after every Native mass murder.
There you have it—the truth.
When I first heard this reality, I felt shell-shocked as the childhood images of happy Native-Pilgrim harmony dissolved like smoke into the wind. The truth is neither heart-warming nor one that anyone can be remotely proud of, but it is the truth. Every story has two sides, and, sadly, only the winner lives to tell their side. We–the people who celebrate Thanksgiving–are the ‘winners.’ Unlike the Native Americans, we did not lose our land nor culture, nor lives. Even before the Pilgrims slaughtered the innocent Pequot peoples, every Native American was a target for invading Europeans who committed casual genocide for the sake of material wealth. Many Native Americans today still see themselves as survivors, as they survived through the destructive cultural white-washing and perpetual discrimination while retaining their unique identities.
The United American Indians of New England (UAINE) has allocated the fourth Thursday of November, what most know as Thanksgiving, as a National Day of Mourning. They mourn the mass killings of their peoples, along with the severe disenfranchisement, abuse, and systemic segregation that persists to this day. Members of the UAINE explained that this day “is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture,” – a stark contrast to the fantastical views projected onto children as to Thanksgiving’s meaning for Native Americans.
The true problem of Thanksgiving lies within the one-sided education of American people, which perpetuates an idyllic ignorance of real, gruesome facts. As elementary-age children, we learn to dress up and appropriate Native culture for the sake of joining into this wonderful illusion of Thanksgiving. As educated adults, we teach this idealistic, beautiful image of harmony between the Pilgrims and Native Americans as they shared food at a nonexistent Thanksgiving. But, as Americans, we have a duty to voice the unadulterated truth for the next generations to learn the real history of Thanksgiving.
Abraham Lincoln often taught as an equality-promoting idol for American freedom, ordered the largest mass execution of the Dakota peoples. American education creates patriotism rather than intellect, as we mold young children to fervently love every aspect of the country without realizing the darkness lurking behind seemingly good figures and events. When we as a society allow for ignorance and misguided storytelling, we allow for the continued suppression and oppression of entire nations. The first step to progress is education, so today, I challenge you to tell somebody the real history of Thanksgiving. To come together as a country, we must stand in solidarity with our Native American brothers and sisters who grieve this day of tragedy. Every side of this story deserves to be heard, and society has silenced the side of truth far too long and far too often.
Thanksgiving is a convenient occasion to express thanks to the wonderful people and opportunities in our lives. It can represent the power of goodness and peace, but one must understand and remain aware of the true origins and its lasting impacts on Native culture. Teaching half-tales of only the winner’s story perpetuates ignorance and disregard for Native American identity and history, which contradicts the virtues of freedom and equality, which we are thankful for today.
Happy Thanksgiving, be thankful you have the liberty to enjoy today at peace, and use this day as a reminder that an entire race mourns today over an ongoing struggle that we stay far too silent about.