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Turkey dinners, cranberries, candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and family gatherings – yes America’s favorite holiday is just around the corner – but maybe we shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
Many believe America should hold a National Day of Atonement instead, to acknowledge the genocide of indigenous people that is central to the creation of the United States.
From an early age, Americans hear a story of the Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. Thanksgivings Day is founded on being thankful for that freedom.
For the descendants of Native Americans, it’s a different story. In 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children.
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This pattern would repeat itself across the continent, and form what is now a day of gorging on food and celebrating a stolen freedom.
Earlier this week former child star, Hilary Duff, apologized to her fans after her couple’s Halloween costume caused outrage on social media.
The celebrity was dressed as a Pilgrim and her boyfriend, Jason Walsh, wore a Native American costume to a Halloween party.
I am SO sorry to people I offended with my costume.It was not properly thought through and I am truly, from the bottom of my ❤️sorry.
— Hilary Duff (@HilaryDuff) October 30, 2016
Many Americans complained through social media about the “insensitive” costume. These same people will celebrate Thanksgiving with their families later this month.
Over the table they will also discuss the atrocity of the current Standing Rock situation. A situation that’s directly affecting Native Americans and their culture.
In June 2014, natural gas and propane company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) announced it had the commitments needed to move forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline, an underground pipe from a geological formation called the Bakken Formation to Pakota, Illinois.
Supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline began a viral campaign enticing people to “check in” to the reservation on Facebook. More than 1m people checked in at Standing Rock, according to Facebook.
The protest dips into the complex legal world of Native-American sovereignty. The Treaty of 1851, for example, has been cited by Native protesters as they have begun to occupy private land in protest of the pipeline.
How can hundreds of thousands of Americans support Standing Rock- yet continue to celebrate the Native American massacres that occurred hundreds of years ago?
Native Americans also state that the Pilgrims did not introduce the concept of Thanksgiving; the New England tribes already had autumn harvest feasts of thanksgiving. This culture spread to the Plymouth Colony when their Governor adopted the tradition.
Although, even after creating ties with the Natives through sharing these customs, the colonies turned on them. On May 26, 1637, while Native warriors were away, an estimated 400 to 700 Pequot women, children, and old men were massacred and burned by combined forces of the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Saybrook colonies.
So, this knowledge begs the question; why should Native people celebrate Thanksgiving?
Well, there are some who publicly stand against Thanksgiving by mourning instead. The United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget.
These are some comments from an essay depicting some of the truth behind Thanksgiving:
From Hydro, Oklahoma: Could we just start over and go forward? We can’t change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta’s great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.
Ecuador via Bozeman, Montana: It’s important to share the whole, true story of the first Thanksgiving. Many of us were told a fairytale lie that led us to believe the same old story: Colonization was good for everyone and colonization was relatively peaceful (the violence was necessary, the ends justify the means). Now, a lot of us are learning more, and that comes from educating ourselves with the help from those who do know. I will say this, the generic idea of thanksgiving, or taking the time to be with family and friends and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, the big and small, is a great practice and should happen more often. I wonder how we can turn a negative into a positive? Can we have an honest Thanksgiving? Can we move forward and, if so, where do we begin?
Santa Fe, New Mexico: My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the “Pilgrims” may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator’s gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.
Fairfax, Oklahoma: Our folks and ancestors left a good road to follow and prayed for gifts or successes for us that they may not have achieved. We have opportunities even more than them in these days and days to come. Long time ago we sat down in thanksgiving and had a great day. That’s what Thanksgiving is to me, to enjoy and continue to achieve for yourself and them. They are smiling when we achieve.