Thanksgiving is Inherently Harmful? Let’s Talk About It

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Mccabe

I am sure we all can remember the story about the Pilgrims and Indigenous people of Native America feasting with each other in elementary school. We used to make and craft pilgrim hats and Native American headpieces. This was supposed to be a fun activity. However, I look back now and think, “What the f*** was that?” I realize now that the way Thanksgiving was talked about was not only brushed over but was also fabricated. 

Looking back, I have more questions about how what we were taught doesn’t make any sense now. Yes, I was younger, so I didn’t think about Thanksgiving is a holiday based on colonization. However, now that I'm much older, it’s something that I want to hold my elementary teachers accountable for. We should have been taught the truth about what Thanksgiving really was and how it came to be. The topic of colonization was too hard of a pill to swallow. As a result, how America came to be was never a part of the lesson.

When European settlers came to North America, the way Indigenous people lived drastically changed. The Europeans brought diseases from their travels which made the Indigenous sick and caused deaths. Their land was also being taken away from them and they were forcefully assimilated into Western culture, which destroyed their traditions and caused generational trauma. There wasn’t a consensual relationship between the colonizers and the Indigenous people, yet we spent the majority of our childhood thinking otherwise. 

Thanksgiving was not what we actually always thought it was. On Oct. 3, 1863, the Union Army won against the Confederate Army at the battle of Gettysburg. This meant that Confederates could not be an independent state. To celebrate this, Abraham Lincoln wanted to express gratitude by having a day of giving thanks, which became the first Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, 1863. This means we are celebrating the defeat of the Confederates every year for Thanksgiving. 

There is still a problem with this, before we go and start acting like the Union Army were the good guys and Abraham Lincoln was some kind of superhero. Why were they there to begin with? Where are the Indigenous people in all of this? Why were we taught that Thanksgiving was the rejoicing between the Pilgrims (colonizers) and the Indigenous people when in reality, Thanksgiving became official after the fact and the Indigenous people weren’t in the picture anymore. Why did they become extinct and why was there no question about that? Hence why I have always and will always continue to feel uncomfortable on Thanksgiving day or should I say “Colonizer day.”