Acknowledging the harmful impacts of the holiday is a first step
The commemoration of Thanksgiving has evolved over generations, with many people choosing to celebrate the holiday in their own way — whether that’s by honoring their own culture, gathering with friends for a Friendsgiving or devouring a feast. While some may have the privilege to disregard the dark historical origins of Thanksgiving, this does not do justice to the Indigenous people who are forcefully reminded of the atrocities committed to their communities every year on this day.
In school, many children are fed the inaccurate image of pilgrims and Indigenous people sharing a meal together and bonding over exchanging cultures, falsely suggesting Indigenous populations agreed to integrate with the European colonists as more and more settlers began to claim Indigenous land for themselves. Yet — like much of history — the telling and retelling of this narrative has distorted the truth that Indigenous populations have known and shared for generations.
Historians suggest that the Thanksgiving tradition dates back to the initial alliance between the Wampanoag tribe and European settlers to help protect the Wampanoag people from a neighboring tribe. This relationship grew more and more strained as colonists began expanding their claim and imperiled lives by introducing new diseases. This culminated in King Philip’s War — the Indiginous tribes’ attempt at reclaiming ownership of their land that ultimately led to bloodshed, devastation and a shift in power towards the colonists.
Much as how we were led to believe this sanitized depiction of the holiday, U.S. residents — when the holiday was first officially recognized in 1863 — were also told this version of history as an attempt by Abraham Lincoln to unify a divided country. Since then, the gore behind this day has become hidden under themes of peace and giving thanks while Indigenous people mourn the tragedies of “Thanksgiving.”
Despite the devastating history of this day, Thanksgiving has become an integral part of U.S. culture. Many likely look forward to taking a break and spending time with family and friends. Some may even take on this theme of gratitude to help out at food banks or donate to those in need. While based on a false narrative, the values associated with Thanksgiving can still succeed in bringing people together and promote giving back to our local communities.
Some may choose to boycott this holiday altogether, but those who choose to observe it should try to do so in a more conscious manner.
Educating ourselves and our family members about the true history behind Thanksgiving can be a first step towards greater awareness and respect for Indigenous populations. Their story is not one that should only be remembered during Thanksgiving, but one that people should continually strive to learn about. Before eating dinner with loved ones, consider taking some time to listen to a podcast or read an article about the history of the Wampanoag people.
We can also acknowledge the reparations owed to these communities by giving back through donations or supporting Indigenous-owned businesses. UC Davis has a Native American Retention Initiative Support Fund and a Native American Alumni Scholarship that are open to donations.
Our dinner tables can also be filled with Indigenous foods such as turkey, corn, beans or wild rice. Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota Sioux chef, details a list of foods that celebrate Indigenous cuisine. Being conscious of our food means also honoring the land that we are on. Let us not forget that those of us in Davis are living on the land of the Patwin people who have three federally recognized tribes as of today: Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.
While it’s impossible to remove the harmful origins and impacts of Thanksgiving, we can strive to spread awareness and acknowledge the tragedies surrounding this day. In order to truly celebrate the values of kindness, sharing and gratitude, it’s important to promote the accounts from Indigenous people themselves and focus on the true history of the holiday.
Written by: The Editorial Board