Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving – I love the food, I love spending time with my family, I love the sentiment behind it, and I really, really love the break from school – but I think it’s also important to recognize and acknowledge its history while we’re celebrating it. It’s especially important when you consider recent events: the Keystone Pipeline – which, if you recall, was heavily protested by Native Americans – leaked over 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota a few days ago.
We learn in elementary school that we celebrate Thanksgiving to honor the first harvest of the Pilgrims after Native Americans had helped them learn how to farm and survive on the land after arriving what eventually would become the United States of America.
We draw hand turkeys, make little paper dolls of pilgrims and Native Americans, and watch Pocahontas, learning how the pilgrims and Native Americans hated each other, but came together after clearing up some misunderstandings and they all live happily ever after.
As we get older, we learn that really wasn’t the case. I mean, there was a feast celebrating the harvest around Thanksgiving time that was celebrated by about 50 Europeans and 90 Native Americans. That’s true. The “happily ever after”? Not so much. In reality, Pocahontas was was about 9 or 10 when John Smith came to America. When she was 15 or 16, she was kidnapped by the English, forced to marry John Rolfe, then died when she was 20.
People don’t like to talk about this, but that’s why it needs to be said: this country’s history is not without the suffering of Native peoples and, as a nation, we still have progress to make in alleviating the long-term effects of that suffering.
There’s the Keystone Pipeline, first of all, which was protested for, as we know now, 100% valid environmental concerns and the potential destruction of sacred Native American lands and burial sites. Native American reservations, which were lands that the US government allowed the Native tribes to live on (despite the fact that they were here first), have low standards of living and the people who live there suffer from high rates of poverty, substandard housing, lack of utilities like electricity and running water, and sub-par health services.
Then there are things like this:
This was from a textbook assigned to Canadian third graders. Recently. Thankfully, backlash on social media caused the textbooks to be recalled, but, frankly, it is 2017. This shouldn’t have happened in the first place. We shouldn’t have schools telling our children that the Native peoples “agreed to move to different areas to make room for the new settlements.”
And there are the little things, like the name of that Washington football team or the fact that people still dress up as “Indians” on Halloween, like their culture is a costume, like they’re not real. It’s the fact that they’re treated like second-class citizens despite the fact that they were here first.
I’m not saying people should stop celebrating Thanksgiving – that’s not what I’m trying to communicate here. In my opinion, I feel that people have certain ideas about the history of Thanksgiving and the colonies that need to be corrected. Eat the turkey and the gravy and the mashed potatoes (I know I will, and to excess), give thanks to everything you’re thankful for, and spend time with your family watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. However, also be mindful of history. It’s as important as your present.