Thanksgiving is a celebration of colonialization, land-grabbing, and a litany of other abuses that all resulted in the near complete death of a number of vibrant, functioning cultures. It has continued to be whitewashed and the narrative sanitized from the depletion of the land, disrespect of the cultures, and violence that actually existed. American indigenous people have been made into nameless, faceless, passive players who were savage and lawless.
So, we are cancelling Thanksgiving as we know it this year.
Thanksgiving does not acknowledge whose land we occupy and how it came into our hands. It does not acknowledge that that land was taken and what happened to those that were here before us.
The narrative is important as are the words we choose to use.
Thanksgiving was not a peaceful and friendly get together between the Puritans and indigenous people. Many are aware of the damage that European disease did. But the truth goes beyond a passive transmission of germs (though in later interactions the spread of disease was not done passively). In fact, much of the survival of the colonists is owed to the indigenous people who generously guided them through their lands and generously offered them sustenance. The Puritans arrived weeks before winter with little food stores.
Indigenous people were generous with their resources and how to navigate the land. In return, the Puritans over hunted, damned their rivers causing flooding or alternatively diverging water away from the many agricultural native communities, and depleted and disrespected the land. In addition to causing the starvation of the indigenous people, it also functioned as an act of disrespect to the native tradition of reciprocity with our land.
Beyond natural resources, the colonists also systematically destroyed native culture. Hair was cut off, a symbol of cultural pride and identity, children were sent to colonial schools where they were reprimanded for speaking in their mother language, and women were raped and stolen from their homes. Families were separated and some were sold to the Caribbean as slaves. In the modern narrative, indigenous people are described unilaterally despite the diversity of cultures and tribes that existed across the footprint of the modern United States.
The current interpretation of Thanksgiving is an innocuous gathering between the colonists and indigenous people. In fact, the get together that Lincoln tried to commemorate followed an incredibly bloody battle known as King Philip’s War. Today, many indigenous Americans recognize the day as Native American Heritage Day or as a National Day of Mourning.
This year, we are shifting the narrative and consciously canceling the version of Thanksgiving that many of us grew up with.
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