Thanksgiving is often thought of as a joyous holiday in which families gather together to celebrate annually. It commemorates the feast in 1621 in which ninety members of the Wampanoag tribe and fifty-three Englishmen came together to give thanks for their good fortune before the winter season. This festival took place the year after the disastrous winter of 1620, in which the English’s Plymouth Colony lost almost half of its population. Still, with the help of the Native Americans, the colonists were able to grow enough food to sustain themselves through the coming winter.
However, this often-told story of interracial harmony turns a blind eye to the history that ensued for the very Native Americans that helped the colonists survive. The Wampanoag, much like many other indigenous tribes encountered by the European powers, would eventually become victims of genocide. This makes the idea of the First Thanksgiving being a treasurable moment of Native American and colonist history feel heinously inappropriate and insensitive.
Native Americans faced many hardships after this supposed relationship was built, as many subjugated to slavery by the colonists’ very descendants. Only fifteen years later, in 1636, there was the Pequot War. Fought between the Pequot Native Americans and colonists after the founding of the Connecticut colony, resulted in 700 Pequot men, women, and children falling to enslavement or being killed. The colonists also convinced the Niantic, Narragansett, and Mohegan tribes to fight against the Pequot tribe, pitting them against one other. This resulted in the Pequot tribe being nearly extinguished from the face of the Earth. These types of actions were mirrored across the country. On top of that, the spreading of diseases led to over ninety percent of the Native American population’s destruction by 1900, according to reference.com.
In addition, the holiday of Thanksgiving was created by Abraham Lincoln two years before the Civil War in an attempt to unite the states through celebration, displaying the holiday’s intent as self-interest and preservation. According to powwows.com, a site dedicated to celebrating Native history, virtually no Native Americans today celebrate the holiday, as it is considered a time of mourning. The U.S. government’s recognition of Native American Heritage Day to take place the day after Thanksgiving reinforces this idea. If Thanksgiving represents a time of joy and unity between the old and new world, why don’t Native Americans not celebrate it as so?
However, this viewpoint is not shared by all. “I believe the negativity towards Thanksgiving is uncalled for,” Jayden Guzman, a student from Boston claims, “while the history that ensued is tragic, and I do sympathize with the struggle the Native Americans had to go through, I feel the holiday has changed so much since those times.” He continues, “The holiday itself represents a piece of positive history, and while I do agree that the positive history does sometimes surpass the negative history that followed in representation, I still believe it is important to celebrate the peace and togetherness these two civilizations shared at that moment.”
Thanksgiving is not going anywhere, at least for a while. But while you sit with your family and enjoy your turkey, remember to spare a thought for those who were killed after showing kindness to the colonists, making this national holiday possible.