Education a necessary part of Thanksgiving celebrations

November 19, 2021

This infographic explains some elements of education about Native Americans the authors say should be part of Thanksgiving celebrations. Graphic by Carlee Rigatuso.

Most people remember dressing up as pilgrims and “Indians” for Thanksgiving in elementary school: the school plays, the crafts, the parties. We were constantly taught that this unnamed tribe welcomed the pilgrims with open arms. You could say there is some truth to this, but the scenario we were taught in schools is one of extreme harm for the Indigenous population. 

American Thanksgiving is based on the 1621 harvest between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. While Chief Ousamequin did want an alliance with the pilgrims, it was not out of the kindness of his heart. The Wampanoag people were struggling and dying rapidly from disease and conflict. This alliance was seen as one of the only ways for the Wampanoag people to survive. 

The alliance between the Wampanoag people and the pilgrims was strategic. We need to wash out the narrative that Indigenus people were mindless individuals, blindly submitting to colonialism. We were not taught how this relationship quickly diminished and led to King Phillip’s War, one of the most notable and gruesome colonial and Native American conflicts. King Phillip’s War resulted in the mass murder of native women, children, and elders. And entire Native families being sold into slavery abroad or forced to become servants at home.

The arrival of the settlers and North America becoming colonized is a shared part of our history with Natives. Thanksgiving is an important reminder to recall the full history of colonization and that it encompasses centuries of oppression, genocide, assimilation, and the theft of Native land. 

We remember as children feeling invisible during Thanksgiving, being forced to wear a paper hat with craft store feathers on it. Some people do not see the problem with a Native American student being forced to roleplay a feast that preceded the mass genocide our Native ancestors. Although our tribes were not involved in this specific instance, they were severely damaged by the chaos that followed. As people are celebrating this upcoming holiday, take time with your family to educate yourselves and remember the real meaning of Thanksgiving.


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