The girls described their frustration at having to grow, watching the whole country celebrate a holiday that held painful connotations for them.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 25, 2021. It has since been updated.
Most people first hear the story of Thanksgiving as children. Or rather, they hear a certain version of the events that inspired the holiday. As they grow up, Thanksgiving Day becomes synonymous with good food, expressing gratitude, spending time with family, and the beginning of the fall-winter holiday season. However, for some, the generally popular holiday is a reminder of pain, injustice, and loss. And since most of America seemed more than happy to leave the dark and gruesome parts out of history books, a few years ago, six Native American girls took it upon themselves to set the record straight on the untold story of the national holiday.
Laurel Cotton, Duannette Reyome, Evannah Moniz-Reyome, Kiera Thompson, Wacantkiya Mani Win Eagle, and Wanbli Waunsila Win Eagle, teamed up with Teen Vogue in 2016 to explain the real history behind Thanksgiving. Seated behind a table set with traditional Thanksgiving dishes, the girls described their frustration at having to grow up watching the whole country celebrate a holiday that held painful connotations for them. "Happy Thanksgiving, America. I'm Daunnette and I'm here with my friends to tell you the real history behind this holiday," Reyome, a model, says in the video.
"Growing up I knew that what they told you in school about Thanksgiving wasn't true. That's not the true story. The true story behind Thanksgiving was, after every killing of a whole village, these European settlers celebrated it and they called it Thanksgiving. But it wasn't until Abraham Lincoln became president that it became an official holiday," she explained. "He ordered 38 Dakota men to be hung for war crimes. After the sacred holiday of Christmas," continued Wacantkiya Mani and Wanbli Waunsila Win Eagle. "We take this time to remember our elders who lost their lives due to what really happened," said Moniz-Reyome.
REMINDER: For Indigenous people, #Thanksgiving is a National Day of Mourning—a reminder of the slaughter of millions of their ancestors, the theft of their lands, and the institutional racism that Indigenous communities still face today. pic.twitter.com/p7E50Uwnyy— ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) November 26, 2020
"Usually my mom makes a Native American dish for us and we pray," she added. "Growing up, I would be kind of annoyed that they didn't know what actually happened on Thanksgiving and that they're actually celebrating the deaths of many people and many tribes that were lost," said Wacantkiya. "Whether it is to give thanks or to be with your family, you should learn how that holiday was established in the first place," her sister added.
“Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning”— Lorena is 39 weeks and FINISHED. (@nenagerman) November 26, 2020
Be thoughtful today. Be honest today. https://t.co/XRpOrIz7d9
The girls concluded the video by revealing all the things there are thankful for including being "born indigenous to this continent," still having their culture, and that their elders kept their culture alive all these years despite everything they've been through. Speaking to TODAY Parents, Matika Wilbur of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, explained that while the most popular story of Thanksgiving is tied to the idea of white supremacy, the way forward lies with parents telling their children the truth. "Parents can start by telling their kids the truth and offering their children a more complex narrative. Kids are smart and capable of understanding," she said.
"Thanksgiving is rooted in a historical fallacy," Wilbur continued. "The main Pilgrim narrative coincides with colonization that was inherently oppressive and brutal." Researcher and journalist Paula Peters believes that sharing the perspective of the Wampanoag tribe — the Indigenous people who lived at Plymouth Rock — is essential even though it can be tough for parents. "It's difficult because we have to talk about some raw topics in order to get a fuller, clearer understanding," said Peters, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. "Quite honestly, cherry-picking that moment when the Wampanoag and Puritans happen to break bread as the 'Kumbaya' moment really does not do it any justice. The Wampanoag have been marginalized and forgotten and the back story is so incredibly critical for what ultimately happens."