What Does Thanksgiving Mean to Native Americans?
The Real History of Thanksgiving
This article appears on the website Native Hope and can be read in its entirety here….
The mainstream version of the Thanksgiving story paints a picture of courageous, Christian settlers, braving the perils of the New World and with the help of some friendly Natives, finding a way to make a new life for themselves. In the days around Thanksgiving, many teachers focus on this happy story, helping students make American Indian headdresses out of construction paper and holding Thanksgiving reenactments in their classrooms.
Very few teachers realize that construction headdresses and school re-enactments create a lump stereotype that Native Americans all wear the same regalia. These school activities also encourage young students to think it is okay to wear culture as a costume. This makes it hard for students to recognize the diversity of Native American tribes and makes students believe it’s okay to mimic Native American traditional wear, without having an understanding of its spiritual significance.
Very few teachers get a chance to tell students about the massacres of Native tribes like the Pequot that took place in the years that followed. They also do not mention that English settlers robbed Wampanoag graves and stole food from them in order to survive during their first years on this new continent.
Why Thanksgiving Is Also a National Day of Mourning
It’s important to know that for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning and protest since it commemorates the arrival of settlers in North America and the centuries of oppression and genocide that followed.
Organized by the United American Indians of New England in 1970, the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving) is recognized as the National Day of Mourning for Native Americans and their allies.
Many people gather at Cole's Hill in Plymouth for an organized rally and day of mourning on Thanksgiving. Here’s what they have to say about this choice to mourn:
“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. 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.”
Continue reading for some of the reasons why Thanksgiving is a complex holiday, and one that all Americans should approach with greater sensitivity.