Truthsgiving: The Realities of Thanksgiving
By Ryan Backus
Thanksgivings have occurred throughout American history for centuries, though not everyone sees the day as a cause for celebration. While many consider Thanksgiving to be a day to give thanks and practice gratitude, they may not know what they are truly celebrating. Others have a harder time participating in the celebration of this day, due to the traumatic history that it is founded upon.
Before looking into the history of Thanksgiving, it is important to be aware of the plethora of biases that are attached to historical information. The quote “The world doesn't have history, what we have is a white-washed history.” by Abhijit Naskar, shines a light on the issues that arise when trying to delve into historical topics. To whitewash is to intentionally hide some kind of wrongdoing, error, or unpleasant situation by dealing with it in a way that attempts to make it seem better than it is. This is very harmful to people, especially students, due to history not being accurately reflected resulting from bias.
The history taught in the United States Education System is a major misrepresentation of how the actual events unfolded. This is because school history books are typically written by those of the dominant culture. There is seemingly no accurate representation of the historical events that occurred because it often romanticizes white ideals, white supremacy, and manifest destiny. Teachers are discouraged from teaching topics in a non-Americanized version because of criteria set by the state which require them to teach material a certain way.
For Thanksgiving, in particular, the story portrays friendly Native Americans, unidentified by tribe, welcoming the Pilgrims to America, teaching them how to live in this new place, sitting down to dinner with them, and then disappearing. They hand off America to the white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to opportunity for the rest of the world’s profit. They glorify the concept of Native American’s conceding to colonialism, and dress it with stuffing.
It is clear the thanksgiving that is being celebrated, is not an accurate depiction of history. Even the day the original Thanksgiving was held on is still up for debate. There are claims that the first Thanksgiving Day was in the city of El Paso, Texas, in 1598. Another possible event was in 1619 in the Virginia Colony.
Historians have often traced the origins of the modern Thanksgiving Day to the harvest celebration of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. It is currently believed the Plymouth colonists did sit down for a three-day meal with the Wampanoag tribe, though the meal was not the symbol of peace it was later portrayed to be, it was just a celebration of a good harvest.
However this peaceful relationship did not last long. By 1637, the colonists began battling a decades-long war with their Indigenous neighbors. The war was over land and resources, though the colonists had much harsher weaponry. In addition to the deliberate killings and wars, Native Americans died in massive numbers from disease and infections among Europeans brought by sea. Ultimately, the colonists massacred the local tribes, including the Wampanoag.
Since colonization, the Native Americans have been mistreated consistently. Russell Thornton, a Cherokee-American anthropologist, indicated that his own estimate of approximately 12 million Indigenous people died in what is now the United States between 1492 and 1900. Not only that, Native tribes have lost 99% of their land in the United States since colonization.
Mistreatment continued well past the year 1900, though Native Americans continued to strive to gain power for their nations. The Society of American Indians members worked in Washington D.C. through the turn of the 20th century to negotiate treaty rights. Negotiations proved to be unsuccessful and sub sequential in the dissolution of this society. With little representation in government, policies seldom went in the favor of tribes.
As a result of this, Native Americans were discriminated against very harshly. Children were taken from families to be sent to boarding schools to assimilate with euro-centric standards. Adults within the tribes were stripped of the land beneath them and forced to relocate. These events occurred well into the 1960s before any major congressional action was conducted.
Currently, Native American tribes are identified as sovereign nations and have their own court system. Even land has been delegated to Tribes to serve as a reservation. While this may be the case, the voices of the Native American population are constantly being silenced. Due to the ever present view of eurocentrism in society, Native Americans’ struggles are still at hand. Tribes continue to try to understand how to carry themselves and their cultures forward in the modern world. It is truly evident how history repeats itself.
Indigenous Peoples in America recognize Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. It is a time to remember ancestral history as well as a day to acknowledge and protest the oppression that continues, even today. Taking this mentality and applying it to your own thanksgiving, however that may look, will help to make a more representative celebration of thanksgiving.
It is important to note when history is misconstrued or presented with bias it is can be difficult to fully grasp the reality of the situation. When history is portrayed with little evidence to back it or from one side of a scenario, bias can occur. The truth of Thanksgiving may never be completely accurate for everyone in the United States, due to misconceptions surrounding the holiday. However, the Native American mistreatment in the United States since this event is definite, horrifying, and more than worthy of mourning.