WRITTEN AND CONTRIBUTED BY KWYN TOWNSEND RILEY
What You Need to Know:
November is Native American Heritage Month. Hypocritically, it is also the month of trauma for Native Americans as most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.
The history of Thanksgiving is covered in cries of mourning. Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time for food and family, but for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the loss of their land and their people in the centuries following the Mayflower’s arrival in New England.
According to a CBS interview, CBS reporters asked some Native American Chicagoans of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe what they do for Thanksgiving and they simply replied that they ignore it.
“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, per se. We celebrate giving thanks,” she said. “The survival is what the beautiful story is. The fact that we’re still here.”
Native Americans make up less than 3% of the entire city, which actually still makes Chicago the third-largest urban Native American population in the country.
The first Thanksgiving is often portrayed as a friendly harvest festival where Pilgrims and generic, nameless “Indians” came together to eat and give thanks. In reality, the assembly of the Wampanoag Peoples and the English settlers in 1621 had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and a pursuit of peace.
The Wampanoag Peoples had a long political history dealing with other Native Nations before the English arrived. The Wampanoag shared their land, food, and knowledge of the environment with the English. Without help from the Wampanoag, the English would not have had the successful harvest that led to the first Thanksgiving. However, cooperation was short-lived, as the English continued to attack and encroach upon Wampanoag lands in spite of their agreements. Interactions with Europeans and Americans brought accelerated and often devastating changes to American Indian cultures.
It is in Native American culture to celebrate thanks, and that is what we should continue to celebrate.
Why We Need to Know:
The stories we tell about Thanksgiving need to be accurate. As we know, Eurocentric history has erased, abandoned, or misled generations for centuries. With growing technology and activism, we can all right the wrongs of our past. Whether it be creating a new law, deleting a racist statue, or telling our children about the real stories of the holidays we celebrate…we can be one step closer towards justice for all.
Learn more at nativelands.ca and about ways you can be an ally to Indigenous people.