It’s Thursday evening and your family piles into your grandma’s house, all hugs and kisses and "how have you been's". You’ve already watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the football game went well. Your grandma’s house smells like sweet potatoes and stuffing. You just can’t wait to dig in after they all say grace. Good old Thanksgiving, the American Holiday. How did that holiday start off again? A bunch of pilgrims and Indians sat together at a table, breaking bread and feeling thankful that they made it through the winter together. At least that’s what was taught to you in kindergarten.
You see, that’s not where thanksgiving came from. No, the Indians and the pilgrims did not sit together around a cornucopia breaking bread and feeling thankful. No, it was much more different. Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been a holiday recognized in a few other countries too, such as Canada, the Caribbean Islands, and Liberia as a day to celebrate the harvest. This tradition of harvest celebration through feast has gone back even since Henry VIII before we had even gotten to the New World.
As far as the “Great Feast” that the American Thanksgiving revolves around, the Plymouth Feast is sort of a myth in its own. There isn’t any solid documentation of when this first feast actually occurred and what even happened at that feast. There are several dates between 1621 to the 1660s claiming to be the year of the famous feast. In fact, the day hadn’t been proclaimed as a national holiday until during the Civil War by Abraham Lincoln.
The Native Americans had been depicted as friendly and helpful to the Pilgrims who had stayed in their settlement. They helped them grow corn, a crop the English were not familiar with, and according to legend, they shared a meal with them to show gratitude. There isn’t much that was documented about all of this and a lot of it is told through oral tradition. However, if you consider how the American Government had treated the Native Americans decades after and perhaps consider that not too long after the alleged year of the feast, nearly 400 settlers were massacred by Native Americans near the settlement, there might be a chance it didn’t go exactly that way.
The biggest issue with Thanksgiving is its depiction of Native Americans and how the history is taught. Growing up, our class would act out the feast, half of us dressing as pilgrim and half of us dressing as the Native Americans as if dressing up as another culture was even remotely okay. We didn’t learn about how our country treated Native Americans until several years later. We had this idea that things were great for the settlers and Native Americans. That genocide wasn’t a thing that happened. Thanksgiving kind of covered up genocide and acted like it didn’t happen to them.
Perhaps, we need to look into what has happened as a result of Colonization and how it had and does affect the lives of Native Americans.
This month is Native American Heritage Month and I think it would be smart to perhaps learn about the histories of the Native American people as well as learn about how the depiction of Native Americans can be harmful to them.