When I was in preschool and elementary school, I was taught that Thanksgiving was a happy, peaceful time when Native Americans* shared a feast with their beloved pilgrim friends. I remember the class being divided up into two sections, half of which dressed as pilgrims and half of which dressed as Native Americans (cringe).
As I grew older and learned more about U.S. history in high school, I learned that European colonizers weren’t always kind to Indigenous Peoples here in the Americas. I learned that we had taken some of their land, and I learned about the Trail of Tears, but not much beyond that. I don’t think the gravity of the abuses toward Indigenous Peoples really sank in.
It wasn’t until I was in graduate school for social work that I ACTUALLY learned the full truth about how Native people here in North America were treated by European colonizers. I was horrified as I learned about the extent of the racial hatred toward Indigenous Peoples, the many wars and massacres, the murder of peaceful adults and children who had hung white flags as a sign of surrender, the use of Christian faith as justification to murder, the fact that 56 million (MILLION!!) Indigenous Peoples had been slaughtered by my white ancestors.
Suddenly, the cheery narrative I had been fed about Thanksgiving fell more than a little flat. While it does appear to be true that there was some sort of harvest feast in 1621 at which colonizers and Indigenous Peoples ate together, I came to understand that my white ancestors hadn’t just smiled and shared food with Indigenous Peoples; they had brutally murdered them and stolen their land.
My family has always celebrated Thanksgiving as a holiday about personal gratefulness, and I think that’s a very appropriate way to celebrate it. But if you want to go a step further and actively counterbalance the false narrative of cheerful and friendly pilgrims and Native Americans, I think that’s also a great thing to do. Rather than gloss over the trauma, abuse, and genocide that white people inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples, we can flip the narrative at Thanksgiving by openly acknowledging it while finding ways to uplift Native people who continue to be abused and discriminated against even today. Here are a few ways: