The Thanksgiving story you know is a myth
In a few days many students will be going home to their families to spend Thanksgiving with them. While many may treasure this holiday for the time they get to spend with their family, it’s important to recognize the colonialist violence that this holiday erases.
From a young age, American kids are told a story of Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing a feast together, a symbol of peace and unity between two peoples. Many students may remember being in school and dressing up on the last day before Thanksgiving as either a Pilgrim or a Native American.
While this narrative is a fun story for kids, it is not based on truth.
The false story claims there was peace between an unnamed tribe and the Plymouth settlers. In reality there was an alliance between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe but it wasn’t born out of friendly welcoming.
Because of English settlers, the Wampanoag tribe dealt with violence, displacement, kidnappings of their members into slavery and of course disease spread from settlers that decimated their population.
The alliance between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag was strategic for the Wampanoag to remain strong. However, this alliance which is partially memorialized by Thanksgiving led to New England conquering the Wampanoag. Starting with around 40,000 people in the 1600s, there are only 4,000 to 5,000 Wampanoag members today.
It’s important to note that there is much disagreement among historians about what Thanksgiving is based on.
Many historians think the real Thanksgiving came from a massacre of the Pequot tribe where William Bradford decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in honor of the bloody battle they won. This would make Thanksgiving based on an even bloodier affair.
The myth of Thanksgiving is murky. Thanksgiving was likely a Pilgrim religious tradition that became associated with Native Americans due to the constant interaction Native Americans had with New England colonies, good or bad.
Despite the lack of proof it happened the way kindergarten teachers tell it, and the overwhelming proof of violent colonization, American culture still tells a story of unity between Indigenous people and settlers. Thanksgiving validates settler colonialism by portraying it as sometimes being peaceful.
In reality, even if there was a feast of some sort with both Natives and settlers it doesn’t matter. In the end, English settlers ended up contributing to the genocide and displacement of many Native American tribes.
The colonial struggles of Indigenous people still continue today.
Pipelines and expansions are built on Indigenous land, breaking treaties with tribes and putting Indigenous people in danger of having their food supply contaminated and women kidnapped by man camp workers. Many Indigenous Americans struggle with food and water insecurity as well as struggles with accessing healthcare.
Indigenous people in this country are still struggling as a result of colonization and Americans celebrate a holiday commemorating a fluffed up myth of native and settler unity that has no real historical backing.
It’s hard to not celebrate Thanksgiving as many families do it anyway. However, this can be a time to learn about Indigenous issues. You can start by finding out what tribes own the land you reside on. There’s actually a number you can text to find out. Learn about the local tribes and see if you can do or donate anything to help.
Overall, it’s important to know the truth. Many people grow up without questioning what they were told about Thanksgiving in kindergarten. Once you deconstruct the myths settler colonialism instills in the U.S., you can start to learn more about how to help out Indigenous folks.
Anna Baker is an English senior who can be reached at [email protected]