[STAFF EDITORIAL] Recognize the history of Thanksgiving and celebrate Indigenous cultures instead
100% staff consensus
November 17, 2021
The story of Thanksgiving is complex. The common story builds off historic misconceptions adapted and mainstreamed over time. To unearth a true story and adapt to a meaningful celebration, it’s necessary to decolonize the stories we tell.
Here’s what we know: There was a celebratory harvest feast between the English that survived their first winter in Massachusetts and the Wampanoag people in 1621. Neither group knew that this meal would later be considered the first Thanksgiving. For the Wampanoag people, it was far from first. The Wampanoag held several seasonal ceremonies that resembled the harvest feast in 1621. The only difference was that the meal in 1621 was the Pilgrims’ first harvest festival. A European author revised from a 17th-century document to create the idea that it was the First Thanksgiving.
Whether in a Charlie Brown special or a Hallmark greeting card, the pervasive narrative is that pilgrims landed in an empty, abandoned Native American settlement known as the village of Pawtuxet (now Plymouth, Massachusetts). The Indigenous people and the pilgrims were friendly with each other. Connections were made. Corn and turkey shared. Everyone was so thankful.
The parts that don’t make the story highlights involve a plague brought by European fishermen to the east coast that decimated the Indigenous population between 1616 and 1618. Or the kidnapping of Tisquantum, a man commonly called Squanto, known for translating for pilgrim settlers in Pawtuxet. He was kidnapped for five years by an English sea captain, which is how he learned to speak English, and when he came back to his village, it was wiped out and replaced by an English settlement.
According to Many Hoops Around Thanksgiving, the holiday represents the pain Native Americans experienced and continue to experience because of European settlement, a history that sits at odds with the present-day celebration meal focused on gratitude.
Celebrating a fall harvest isn’t the issue with the holiday. It’s important to pause and feel gratitude, and it’s a tradition for many families to host a celebratory feast. The problem with how Thanksgiving is usually celebrated is with the fake cornucopia and the inaccurate stories that continue to cause harm to Indigenous people.
Keep the pilgrim salt shakers in storage and find a genuine way to understand and honor our coexistence with Indigenous people this Thanksgiving.
Celebrate Native American heritage by taking action
November is National Native American Heritage Month. Native American Heritage Day is on Nov. 26. Instead of celebrating an inaccurate history that damages the culture of Indigenous people, celebrate Native Americans by focusing on the tradition of connection and gratitude.
- Be part of the solution with Native American initiatives. Rock Your Mocs is a movement created to celebrate tribe individuality. The organization invites Indigenous people to wear moccasins throughout the week of Nov. 14-20.
- The same week is also the Red Shawl Campaign. Wear red to bring attention to violence committed against
- Native American people, specifically women, and children.
- Visit a museum or reservation. Reservations are not tourist attractions. They are homes for tribes and communities, but some welcome visitors and have created spaces to educate them about their history and culture. Many museums and reservations hold education events around Thanksgiving. The Minnesota History Center currently has an exhibit entitled “Our Home: Native Minnesota” that focuses on the true stories of Native communities in Minnesota. Visit All My Relations Arts, a gallery that presents contemporary American Indian artists. Hocota Ti has a public history exhibit called “Mdewakanton: Dwellers of the Spirit Lake” that welcomes visitors to learn more about the Mdewakanton Dakota people. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa also has a cultural center and museum for visitors to learn more about their culture.
- Decolonize your celebration. Consider not using Native American decorations. Start a conversation about the history of Thanksgiving with the people you celebrate with.
- Figure out whose land you are on. Enter an address or addresses. Learn stuff.
- Celebrate Native American culture by supporting an Indigenous chef and making one of their recipes. Many of the food traditions on Thanksgiving are inspired by Indigenous people’s foods during celebratory meals. Turkey is a native bird that was available year-round. Similarly, they also ate squash and cranberries. The traditions today have come from Indigenous traditions.
- Read Native American authors. Check out a book from the display in the Randolph Campus library.
- If you shop on Black Friday, shop from stores owned by Indigenous people. Indigenous First sells products from Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs. Birchbark Books & Native Arts celebrates Indigenous writers and artists. There is also a Native Business Directory where you can find an Indigenous business for almost anything.