Opinion: Thanksgiving or Thanks-taking?
In November, many American families gather to celebrate the popular holiday, Thanksgiving. You visit with distant relatives you haven’t really seen since last year around the same time. Someone cooks a turkey, and everyone stuffs themselves until a nap sounds like the best next thing to do. And maybe in elementary school, you were taught about a guy named Christopher Columbus, who had a pleasant dinner with pilgrims and Native Americans, known as “the first Thanksgiving.” For most Americans, this is the narrative they grew up with. However, for some, Thanksgiving is a time to remember the elders who lost their lives due to what really happened.
For most folks, the “first Thanksgiving,” was in the early 1600s between the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag tribe, the first tribe to make contact with early settlers, in present-day Massachusetts. While records indicate that this celebration did happen, there are a few misconceptions we need to clear up. Due to the removal of Native American narratives from the history a lot of us were taught, we’ve been left with an incomplete picture of what really happened. So, here’s the full story.
When the first settlers came to what is now known as the United States, which was many years before the first known Thanksgiving celebration, it was closer to the 1400s, according to Potawatomi.org. As the early colonies were being attempted to set up, there was a tremendous amount of fighting, war and genocide between the Native people and the pilgrims; or what some refer to as colonizers. There were eventually treaties made by the early colonists and the Wampanoag people, but those agreements were violated repeatedly. There is no evidence that the Wampanoag people were invited to the celebration in the first place. Some experts believe that these 90 men were an army, sent by the Wampanoag people at the sounds of gunshots. They say that they shared a meal in that interaction.
A man named William Bradford, who later became the governor during that time, wrote in his journal about the interaction that day, which is what we know today as Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is meant to be a celebration of Native people and early colonizers. Though, the question is, are we in a good relationship with Native people, today? Do they have the sovereignty today to decide who they want to be, and their rights?
So, why haven’t we heard this before? Was it because we would tell our children and ourselves the softer, more digestible version of the holiday? Or it could be that we might not be comfortable with knowing that we are living on stolen Native land.
It’s important for reconciliation. How do we dismantle these myths? How can we navigate these times we live in and talk with our children about Thanksgiving? While we gather around the turkey this year, take a moment to talk about the complexity of the story, and how it’s rooted in historical fallacy. On this holiday, the day of mourning for some, since the first Thanksgiving, let us remember that we have a responsibility to have these conversations with our loved ones, that can build a relationship in a way that land can be shared and the truth be told.