The story behind the Native American perspective on Thanksgiving is not what most people think it is.
Americans and Europeans had many disputes over land and resources. The native peoples eventually signed treaties with the Pilgrims, but they were not honored. An activist named Wamsutta James was an American Indian who helped establish a Thanksgiving protest and gave a speech about abusive Pilgrims. He helped with the organization of National Day of Mourning that took place every year in Plymouth on the same day as Thanksgiving, organized by the United American Indians of New England.
The speech given by Wamsutta was about how the Native Americans were mistreated when the Pilgrims came. Their perspective on Thanksgiving is a reminder of the genocide when millions of their people died, thieves stole their land and assaulted their culture. Thus, there is the National Day of Mourning, where people honor the Native ancestors.
This day is a remembrance, spiritual connection and protest of racism and oppression that Native Americans continue to experience. “I’m a part of the Ottawa tribe of Oklahoma. Being Native American, and being apart of the tribe, I think, has greatly impacted my life as a mixed race (Asian American, Native American, etc.) girl growing up in America,” senior Kalani Van Meter said.
The controversial thoughts of Thanksgiving tie into the controversial day, Columbus Day. The holiday is not celebrated or recognized by some states because of the perspectives of Native Americans. Columbus Day is recognized as the day Christopher Columbus discovered America, but to Native Americans, it’s the reason for the start of the genocide. States that do not recognize Columbus day celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. “I celebrate Thanksgiving because I am thankful for my family, friends and good health. But I think it’s equally as important to realize that it wasn’t always easy to get along. People should recognize the hardships Native Americans have gone through throughout the nation’s history, and those that they are still going through today,” Van Meter said.
Recent reports have stated that the Trump administration is taking land from the tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims. When the Pilgrims came, the Wampanoag tribe helped the settlers plant corn and survive through the winter. “My grandfather used to make a big speech every year to my mom when she was a kid about the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims. That was what the ideal was based on, they brought food for the Pilgrims so they wouldn’t starve, essentially the first Thanksgiving. Now, Trump wants to take away their land,” Van Meter said.
Native Americans believe Thanksgiving to be the day where the genocide of their people started. “I celebrate Thanksgiving because it’s embedded into American society as something the entire nation celebrates, whether it’s enjoying a break or stereotypically eating turkey with your family. However, growing up, I was also taught that holidays such as Thanksgiving, and ones that were established by European settlers, were lies. The misconceptions and false images that they teach specifically in elementary schools are untrue. It is true that at one point in times natives were welcoming to settlers; but that isn’t how entire periods of time and more importantly entire cultures should be pictured, especially in younger children today,” Van Meter said.