Ortiz: Thanksgiving history makes the holiday not worth celebrating

Kenia Ortiz

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in the United States and Canada on the fourth Thursday of November to celebrate the blessings of another year.

Ad

On Thanksgiving, a grand meal is prepared, and family and friends unite to dine together and enjoy one another’s company. The meal is meant to be a replica of the 1621 harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people. This meal is what is referred to as the first Thanksgiving.

However, the depiction of the relationship between settlers and the Native people, along with what actually inspired the holiday, is white-washed and embellished.

Before I begin, I want my readers to know that I do not identify as Native American and in no way am trying to speak for, or as, the Native American community. This article is solely based on research.

The portrayal of the first Thanksgiving is a false depiction of the relationship between Native Americans and European settlers because it paints the picture that there was peace between them, and differences could be put aside.

Just because there was a feast where a group of white settlers and Native people were able to enjoy food together doesn’t dismiss the harm — that is present to this day — that white settlers caused.

White settlers spread diseases, massacred and enslaved the true people of this land and erased many generations and cultures along the way.

The friendlier depiction is taught in school at a young age in order to help students embrace the holiday spirit of giving thanks and putting differences aside, just as the Pilgrims and Native Americans did. But our history books are careful to write history from a white perspective and depict settlers in a positive light, failing to mention their atrocities

Not only is the depiction upholding a false belief, but it also encourages cultural appropriation. As a Thanksgiving treat, teachers have some kids dress up as Pilgrims and others as Native Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Elementary school kids shouldn’t be looking forward to going to school because they get to play dress up, use face paint and put feathers in their hair. Aside from students making hand turkeys, students also decorate Native American headdresses.

This is an issue because it’s normalizing taking something sacred from a culture and using it as a costume. It’s also an issue because the headdresses and costumes being decorated are an incorrect depiction of what the Wampanoag people wore.

Ad

The audacity it takes to celebrate a holiday that is rooted in genocide and enslavement during the month that’s supposed to celebrate Native American histories, diverse culture and significant contributions is disgusting.”

“One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a national day of atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting,” said professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin.

Additionally, the feast in 1621 wasn’t where the idea of a day to give thanks originated. The concept of a Thanksgiving celebration began in 1637 when the Massachusetts governor of the time, John Winthrop, announced that he wanted to celebrate the safe return of the men who had gone to fight against the Pequot tribe in Mystic, Connecticut. 

This fight, also referred to as the Pequot massacres, resulted in the European settlers killing and enslaving over 700 Pequot men, women and children.

On top of everything else, this holiday is celebrated in November — which is Native American Heritage Month. The audacity it takes to celebrate a holiday that is rooted in genocide and enslavement during the month that is supposed to celebrate Native American histories, diverse culture and significant contributions is disgusting.

It’s no excuse to say “Well, my family has always celebrated Thanksgiving, and I didn’t know.” You’ve gotten to the end of this article, so you know why it’s wrong. There is nothing wrong with giving thanks and showing appreciation for loved ones. That should, and can, be done every day. But there is immense disrespect in overlooking/dismissing the truth behind Thanksgiving.

This may have happened in the 1600s, and maybe Thanksgiving means something different to you, but the lasting effects of genocide, oppression and pain that was caused before, during and after the “first Thanksgiving” is still very alive today.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @Kenia_Ortiz_.