On understanding Thanksgiving

by Katy St. John

Thanksgiving has not always been the way we know it (photo courtesy of OfficeHolidays.com).

In a world where many Americans have been taught one side of history, it is very valuable and important that we expand our knowledge on how we got where we are today. Looking back into early elementary school, I remember learning about Thanksgiving. I was taught about how the settlers came here and worked with the Native Americans, or “Indians”, and learned from them. Then on Thanksgiving Day, they all got together and ate with unity and celebrated with thanks. Our teachers dressed us up as pilgrims and Native Americans while we tried different foods and learned how to milk cows. There are many problematic things that we can touch on here, but for now I will be focusing on the real story. We must dig deeper.

The usage of the word “Indian” began with Christopher Columbus in the late 1400’s when he arrived in North America but mistook the land for South Asia. The use of the word is not only incorrect but offensive due to the pain that was caused by colonizers such as Columbus. That being said, it is best to use terms such as “Indigenous” or “Native American.” Yes, the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower arrived in the year 1620. Yes, they did curate a relationship of sorts with the Wampanoag tribe, but the first Thanksgiving and what it looked like is debated by many. We see evidence that the first officially declared Thanksgiving was in 1637 after the massacre of the Pequot Tribe where over 700 Native people were killed by the colonists. This doesn’t even bring into account that the pilgrims brought an onslaught of diseases that killed thousands of their own, and the Native peoples, as well. Even if they had a relationship with the Wampanoag tribe, they still stole their land and massacred their people.

These may seem like aggressive points I am taking here, but the reality is that history is helpful to us and teaches us. As we step into the holiday season and Thanksgiving, it would be good to do more research and to tell your family about the origins of this day. I know that I grew up with a limited perspective and still even now have one. There is so much more work for me to do to learn about this day’s history and so many more. To remember and acknowledge how we got here helps us do better in the future.

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