For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving marks a day of unforgivable violence, and we shouldn't celebrate their community's genocide.
If you grew up in the United States, chances are that you were taught a whitewashed version of history to explain why we celebrate Thanksgiving every year. Everything you learned about Thanksgiving in middle school is, sadly, wrong. The holiday was never a coming-together of the Pilgrims and Native Americans. It was never about eating a feast together; in fact, there is no evidence to suggest that native tribes were even invited to dine with the Pilgrims. It was never about diversity, either. Therefore, for many native people, Thanksgiving is a sad occasion, honored by the National Day of Mourning, CNN reports.
Thanksgiving Day was ordained as a response to White massacre. After the Pilgrims shot down hundreds of indigenous people, they decided to "celebrate" with a feast, cooked with a harvest stolen from murdered native communities. As William B. Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the Anthropology Department at the University of Connecticut explained, "[Natives] were attacked by mercenaries and English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from [a] building and as they came forth were shot down. The rest were burned alive in the building. The very next day the governor declared a Thanksgiving Day. For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won." However, we were all taught that Thanksgiving was established in order to celebrate "togetherness" when it was anything but.
As you might guess, Native Americans have been trying to reeducate communities ever since, usually to no avail. In 1970, residents of Plymouth, Massachusetts, prepared for a dinner to mark the day the Mayflower docked in what is now known as the United States. Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal leader Wamsutta Frank James had drafted a speech to read at this dinner, in order to remind attendants what they were really celebrating. An excerpt from his speech proclaims, "The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans." He was not allowed to read his speech — so he withdrew. Tall Oak, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe, recalled in an interview with CNN, "When he presented it to them, they said, 'Well, we can't allow you to read that 'cause 90 percent of the people would walk out.' So, he withdrew."
Word of his withdrawal spread and thus this spark ignited the National Day of Mourning, a counter-commemoration of what really happened, what American history textbooks don't tell you. For the 50th year now, Native Americans and their allies will gather on Cole's Hill, overlooking Plymouth Rock, in remembrance of the indigenous people we lost that day so many years ago. "Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their cultures," a plaque at the site states. "Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today."
Mahtowin Munro, co-leader of the United American Indians of New England, said of the tradition, "We go there every year, along with many nonindigenous allies, as well, to talk about the truth about Thanksgiving. We still have to retell the story because it's still not known well enough. But I do think that more and more, nonnative people are listening and learning and are interested in the truth about what has happened." This year, if you too are interested in the truth of Thanksgiving, honor the indigenous peoples whose land, rights, and freedom Europeans stole hundreds of years ago. Instead of hosting a Thanksgiving feast, find out how you can get involved in your local community and right the historical wrongs that Native Americans have had to face for far too long now.