Misgivings about Thanksgiving

Even though Thanksgiving (and most holidays for that matter) has been ingrained in me as a time of togetherness with people you love, I can’t help but look at the roots of this holiday and not feel 100% on board with it.

As usual every year around this time, I flip on the TV or computer and see Pilgrims and Native Americans shaking hands on some cartoon or commercial.  Everything is hunky dory and all is right in the world.  Yeah, right.  Years ago when I first started teaching, ever since learning about the truth about Columbus from Lies My Teacher Told Me, I knew that Native Americans had to have a different side to the traditional happy story of Thanksgiving. So a few years ago I decided to dig up the truth and share it with my 8th grade US History class.

I ventured into the public library and looked for videos to shed some light on my inquiry.  Luckily I happened upon a PBS documentary called We Shall Remain, which was sponsored by American Experience, a program a support for giving you quality information.  It told the story of the Native American perspective on the history of Thanksgiving, specifically the Wampanoag.  In school I was always taught about the specific background of the Pilgrims from Great Britain, but never even knew which Native American group interacted with them.  There were hundreds of Native American communities in the US.  Why didn’t I learn their names and background?

The specific section I watched, “After the Mayflower,” completely blew my mind.  I had an inkling of what I would discover but not to the extent that I did.  There were so many missing pieces to this story, tremendously upsetting ones actually.  First of all, without the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would have surely died.  There were some indigenous people that didn’t trust the Pilgrims and they could have easily killed them, but instead the Wampanoag chief Massosoit decided to befriend them and generously helped them to survive.   In a nutshell, the lesser known parts of this relationship involved unfair “agreements,” betrayal, loss of life and territory on the part of the Wampanoag.  In fact, this day actually marked the beginning of further large scale encroachment and usurping of Native American lands.

Ever since 1970, Thanksgiving has been recognized by Native Americans as a National Day of Mourning, a day to protest.  Although I don’t have roots in their culture, I also mourn for their losses, particularly during this holiday weekend.  My small contribution to this protest is to make as many people aware of the atrocities committed against native people in the US.  So please like this story and pass it along to show your support!