Editorial: Thanksgiving Narrative Distorts Indigenous History

A protestor at a march in San Francisco on September 7, 2018

Thanksgiving is explained to children in the US as pilgrims welcoming the Natives of the land they have just arrived on to their festive feast, sharing love, and going around the table to say what they are most grateful for. Of course these school lessons neglect to mention the disease, famine, genocide, and rape that these pilgrims brought along with them. This assumption of peace has laid the framework for an ignorant pipe dream that has aided in the establishment of over 300 reservations where native peoples and their kin live, work, and die. On such reservations, the chances that one would become an alcoholic is 510 percent higher than for the rest of the nation, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24, and 1 out of 10 people twelve and older will become victims of violent crimes, according to the National Congress of American Indians. The fact of the matter is, Native Americans have been exiled and abused for decades for the sake of economic gain for America.

Those who called themselves “explorers” stole land from these communities for the sake of America, and now those who blindly wear the flag with pride perpetuate the ignorance that has allowed these acts to be committed. Although not every person who supports America is a supporter of genocide, we must understand the contradiction that they hold. To be born on North American land that was once populated by about 10 million people indigenous people in the year 1492, and to know that by the year 1900 an estimate of 300,000 indigenous people remained, should be painful. It is a disgustingly grim truth. Simply ignoring it will do nothing but endanger the lives of Native Americans. It will endanger the minds of children who know nothing more than Thanksgiving stories of happy “Indians” sharing customs with grateful pilgrims. This is not, and never was, the case.

Rather than sugarcoating this history, speaking about its grim truths could provide more closure and support for those affected. Obviously, not every Native person will want to discuss these matters, and that is their rightful choice, but those who are willing to discuss the truth should be given respectful attention. It is not easy to speak about the history of a country founded on lies and misconceptions, especially if it was your people who were deceived.

That said, having a day to spend with family to be grateful for what you have is not in itself a crime. The practice of giving thanks is something that all families should participate in. However, when doing it on a holiday like Thanksgiving, which has such deep history, it is essential that this history is acknowledged. A respectful way to start is with a land acknowledgment. When your family sits down at the dinner table, or begins whatever activity you may be doing, have someone acknowledge that the land you are living upon is stolen land. Have a family member learn what tribe lived in the region you are celebrating in, acknowledge that the land rightfully belongs to those indigenous people, and give thanks to them. Not only is the practice of land acknowledgment respectful to Native Americans, but it is also a meaningful opportunity for families to learn about the history of the indigenous people who are so often pushed aside in the US media. It is a necessary step in rewriting the narrative of Native Americans on Thanksgiving.

Another way to support our indigenous community right now is by showing up for them in person. Sogorea Te Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led community organization dedicated to returning land around the Bay Area to indigenous stewardship. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Sogorea Te Land Trust will hold their annual action at the Emeryville Shellmound, otherwise known as Bay Street Mall. The shellmound is an ancient sacred burial site for the Ohlone people and it was paved over to create the Bay Street Mall. The group will be meeting at 12 PM on the corner of Shellmound Street and Ohlone Way. Showing up in solidarity with the indigenous community of the Bay Area is a way to acknowledge the traumatic history of Native Americans and aid in the rewriting of these false narratives.

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A protestor at a march in San Francisco on September 7, 2018

Image by Jerome Paulos

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