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How to Celebrate Thanksgiving While Respecting History


Massasoit, the Wampanoag Chief, amongst the pilgrims. (Photo: Bettman for Getty via The Atlantic)

What is Thanksgiving really about? Here is the truth and history behind this colonized holiday.

Thanksgiving is a holiday where families typically gather and feast with an assortment of foods, music and is a celebration to enjoy the fall weather.. It's a time to give thanks to everything that you have today and to show appreciation for it.

While Thanksgiving is celebrated as a cheerful holiday, the history behind this colonized holiday is not as pleasant as it seems on the surface.

In grade school we learned the one story about how back in 1621 the Pilgrims of Plymouth came off the Mayflower and celebrated the harvest with a great big feast with their local friendly Native Americans and the two groups became friends soon after that.

Although this is the story we were told, throughout history the exclusion of the Native Americans narrative on Thanksgiving was left out. What really happened during this interaction? The feast was supposed to bring peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans but that peace didn't last long.

The History Behind Thanksgiving

The Wampanoag tribe was the first tribe encountered by the English settlers aboard the Mayflower. The Wampanoag Paramount Chief, formed an alliance with the English settlers after Plymouth was established and fought the newcomers against the French. As thousands of English colonists moved to Plymouth, they started to take land and take control over the Wampanoag way of life.

By 1620, a disease outbreak from European settlers had already decreased the Indigenous population by 90%.So, by the time the Thanksgiving feast occurred the Indigenous population had already been detrimentally decreased.

Additionally, the Wampanoag tribe continued to die from what colonists called the “Indian Fever” which was brought by early European settlers.

Another unknown fact is that the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 was not a repeated event. The next Thanksgiving wasn’t until after English settlers massacred over four hundred women, men, and children of the Pequot tribe,

This feast was supposed to bring “peace” between the Pilgrims and Native Americans to become “friends” but the truth is the settlers took what they wanted while tens of thousands of Native Americans died from these diseases brought by the colonizers and more were captured and sold into slavery.

The truth of Thanksgiving reveals that this was not as friendly of an interaction as it is typically portrayed.

There is also a myth that Pilgrims taught the Native Americans about Thanksgiving, but this is false. The Native Americans had a large society long before the settlers had come, they had established harvest celebrations, feast traditions, and holidays all on their own. So it is evident that the Pilgrims did not teach them anything they already didn't know. If anything the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims much more but it just ended badly for the Indians because of the colonizers.

Knowing all this new information and the untold truth from the Native Americans standpoint goes to show how the colonizers came and took their land, ruined their society, massacred their people and tried to cover it all up throughout history and show a side of them as “friends” and this big feast that made them seem as if peace was established and all was well. This was the untold truth about the real history behind this holiday.

Now after knowing all the truth behind this holiday, the question remains; how can we celebrate Thanksgiving in a respectful way?

So, how can we celebrate this holiday in a respectful manner? We can start by telling the truth on this holiday and acknowledging the true history behind it while still being thankful for your family and all that you have.

It is important to remember to give thanks during this holiday and never forget the real truth behind Thanksgiving.

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