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Thanksgiving is a 'day of mourning' to Indigenous people

America celebrates the settlers' origin of Thanksgiving as a celebration of peace and prosperity, which is not true, say Native Americans.

Thanksgiving is a 'day of mourning' to Indigenous people
GRAND CANYON, AZ - MARCH 20: Hualapai tribal dancers at the Colorado River, on March 20, 2007 on the Hualapai Reservation at Grand Canyon, Arizona. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Trigger warning: This story contains themes of genocide and violence against Native Americans that some readers may find distressing

There definitely was no mashed potatoes or pie at the first Thanksgiving, but still remains a core tenet of the holiday now. Much like the pie and mashed potatoes, the celebration of peace and prosperity shared by Native Americans and Pilgrims is, if not a myth, at least a half-truth. There are two sides to every story. The ones the English settlers have passed down over the years is that they landed in 1621 and met with the Wampanoag tribe, leading to three days of feasting and thanksgiving in 1621. The other side doesn't remember the story that way, but it's that version that's become mainstream and become synonymous with the holiday in America today. Native Hope, a group that aims to address the injustice done to Native Americans, says English settlers robbed Wampanoag graves and stole food from them in order to survive during their first years on this new continent, before eventually unleashing violence and carrying out genocide. 


For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the genocide and the resilience of Native people. Native Americans are not a monolith and every tribe has its own past and takes on the holiday. While some view it as a day of mourning, some share a meal with their family and recall the history of their ancestors, reported USA Today. For a majority of Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a dark chapter in their history, and view it as the day settlers came to their landed, eventually leading to genocide and other forms of violence. Dennis W. Zotigh, who is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Winter Clan, said Thanksgiving is a day of mourning. "To most Natives, Thanksgiving is not a celebration," said Zotigh. "Natives, particularly in the New England area, remember this attempted genocide as a factual part of their history and are reminded each year during the modern Thanksgiving." 

Thanksgiving dinner - stock photo/Getty Images


“Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture," says Native Hope. "Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.” The United American Indians of New England meet every year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill to mourn the violence and the sacrifices made by Native people. Native American people are also calling on Americans to not treat them as a monolith and wear headdresses and random robes to appropriate their culture to reenact Thanksgiving, which is particularly problematic in schools when small children are told the version of the settlers. 


Different tribes are finding their own way of commemorating Thanksgiving. Tribal citizen Julie Garreau, who lives in the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, says she won't be celebrating Thanksgiving, but, instead will organize an event on Native American Heritage Day called "Thanks for Kids," to celebrate Native children. Joshua Arce, president, and CEO of the Partnership With Native Americans celebrates Thanksgiving, but for the resilience of Native American people. "I had a very blended household because my mom's side of the family is Native American, and my father's side is Mexican American. It was always about being together with family," said Arce. "It's about being able to celebrate in a lot of ways, the resiliency of our families."

"Thanksgiving, as the United States’ origin story, leaves out painful truths about our nation’s history," said Zotigh. "Presenting Thanksgiving to children as primarily a happy time trivializes our shared history and teaches a half-truth." Zotigh is calling on educators to take responsibility and share the truth with students as opposed to parroting the settlers' origin story. Steven Peters, a Wampanoag Tribe spokesman, celebrates Thanksgiving, shares time with family and shares blessing as most do, but he asks you to spare a thought for the Native American people on the holiday. "I say have more thanksgiving events throughout the year. I also ask that you take a moment in that day to remember what happened to my people and the history as it was recorded and not the narrative that we had been given in the history books," said Peters.


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