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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

This Thanksgiving, educate yourself on Native American history

Acknowledging the violent origins of the holiday is a start; supporting Native communities with ongoing issues is the next step



Thanksgiving is next week, and while we’re all excited for a much-needed break from this stressful quarter, the Editorial Board encourages you to learn about the historical origins of the holiday, as well as the issues still affecting Indigenous people today.

The origins of the Thanksgiving holiday are often taught from a watered-down and historically-inaccurate perspective in U.S. classrooms. When the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620, the Wampanoag tribe offered an alliance to its passengers as a way of defending themselves from ongoing intertribal conflicts. However, this relationship quickly crumbled when settlers abused the tribe’s resources, introduced new diseases and waged war against the Wampanoag. The Wampanoag people weren’t the only Indigenous tribe targeted by colonizers; during the period of settlement and Western expansion, the estimated population of Native Americans in the U.S. decreased from 10 million to 300,000 by 1900 and has been labeled by many scholars as a racial genocide.

To this day, Indigenous communities face distinct, ongoing discrimination; examples include forced assimilation, health disparities, higher than average poverty rates and lower mean household incomes, and recently,  the controversy surrounding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This law, passed by the Supreme Court in 1978, ruled that child custody cases involving Native American children must be handled with cultural and familial ties in mind; essentially, authorities must place foster children in Native American homes whenever possible. 

This ruling is being challenged on the idea that it places the interests of tribes ahead of the interests of children. However, many Indigenous people argue that overruling the ICWA could endanger the political sovereignty of tribes nationwide, as the case set the precedent that allows reservations to function independently from the state.

This debate surrounding the sovereign status of tribal governments sparks concern that Indigenous people might lose what little political power they have. Indigenous communities face a variety of social, political and economic disparities, largely stemming from a history of unequal treatment and current discriminatory policies. According to the Center for Native American Youth, suicide rates among Native Americans aged 15 to 24 are 2.5 times that of the national average, more than one in three Native American children live in poverty and Native American children are 2.4 times more present in the foster care system than the general population. Clearly, these issues have persisted for generations, and questioning the legal soundness of the ICWA is just the latest in a long history of debates over the rights of Native Americans.

For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not an occasion to be celebrated. It is rather a reminder of the blatant and deep-rooted violence directed toward Indigenous people in the U.S. During Thanksgiving, we encourage you to acknowledge this history and take the time to educate yourself about the space that you occupy. 

UC Davis, for example, is on the land of the Patwin tribe. Members of the Patwin tribe are keepers of the land and even collaborate with the Arboretum in service of environmental stewardship. If you’re heading home this holiday season, find out what tribe is native to the land you are on and keep that in mind as you express your gratitude for friends and family alike. 

It’s also important to listen to Native organizations and support their initiatives. The Indigenous Peoples Movement offers a plethora of resources, with their Instragram in particular being a great way to stay up to date on the latest movements, events and other happenings. For UC Davis students specifically, there are several resources available on campus to support members of Indigenous communities, including the Native American Student Success Center (also known as the Native Nest), as well as the Native American Student Pages and more

Wherever you go this Thanksgiving, whether it be near or far, keep in mind the history of the land that you occupy and consider how you can support Indigenous people in your community. 


Written by: The Editorial Board