Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday for many people. Coming together with family for a warm meal to give thanks for the year’s blessings is a wonderful and meaningful tradition for the majority of Americans. However, the “Thanksgiving story” is entirely false.
The “first Thanksgiving” myth is a made up of a medley of historical events, including: a small feast between Massasoit, the head sachem of the Wampanoag, the men that he had brought to protect him, and English settlers; the 1637 thanksgiving holiday held by Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay colonists after the brutal murder of 700 Pequot men, women, and children; and the thanksgiving holiday observed by all of Massachusetts Bay Colony following the English victory in King Philip’s War, which decimated the Native population of New England. Because of this, many Native nations hold Thanksgiving not as a day to give thanks, but as a day of mourning.
While we should all continue to give thanks for the good things in our life and enjoy our family time this Thanksgiving, it’s also important to remember the holiday’s history and support Native people. Here are five ways to support Native people on Thanksgiving (and every other day):
- Don’t perpetrate the “first Thanksgiving” myth. It’s not even a little bit historically accurate, and it’s really harmful to Native people. Just stop telling this story.
- Educate your friends and family. The “first Thanksgiving” myth has been taught in schools forever, and it’s deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s no wonder so many people still believe in this story, and it’s not really their fault. If your uncle, grandma, or family friend you’ve never met tries to bring this up at Thanksgiving dinner, share its inaccuracies with them and explain how it’s disrespectful. Most people are really happy to learn the truth, and it’s a great way to prove you actually can make conversation at what can be the year’s most awkward event. Click here for some information from the Manataka American Indian Council, here for an educational piece on the subject, or here for an article from the Huffington Post to share.
- Read up on issues facing Native people today. Native people in the U.S. (and across the the Americas) are confronted by significant challenges. Especially on reservations, where poverty is higher, Native people experience high rates of sexual assault, high rates of suicide and mental health issues, limited access to healthcare, and voter suppression. Even in 2018, they are forced to defend their land from the government and large corporations (remember Standing Rock?). Educate yourself on these issues and become an advocate for the political, social, and economic equality of Native people. Here is one article to help you get started.
- Refuse to support companies that profit off disrespecting and appropriating Native culture. Thanksgiving means… Black Friday! While you’re fighting your way through the crowded mall at 6am Black Friday, be conscious of which brands are harming Native people. That “tribal” pattern? Not so cool. Instead, put your money into companies that honor Native culture, work with Native artists, and support Native issues.
- Donate to organizations supporting Native people. Help directly combat the challenges facing Native people by donating money to organizations that support and empower them. Click here for a list of organizations serving the Native community.