Valentina Du Pond
Opinion Copy Editor
Among the things associated with fall, Thanksgiving is one of the first to come to mind. To a hungry teenage student, a day dedicated to eating is most definitely a holiday. For many, Thanksgiving is also a day for appreciating life and spending time with family. Having been around for nearly 400 years, this holiday has meant a lot of different things to various amounts of people. However, this merry day of feasting, thanking and bonding gives off a truly terrible undertone, one either forgotten or ignored by the majority of Americans.
Americans do not mean any harm by getting together and celebrating a national holiday. However, the day these citizens believe is built on the typical American values—family, gratefulness, and food—has a much darker history that 87 percent of Americans, about 281 million people, are perpetrating annually.
Any kindergartner will tell you the Thanksgiving story: pilgrims arrived to the New World and had a happy feast with the Native Americans. This gives the impression that the arrival of the Europeans was peaceful for both them and the Native Americans, and there were no conflicts.
However, the arrival of the Europeans meant suffering for the indigenous peoples. Native Americans were pushed out of their lands, conquered by men with weaponry and technology they had never seen before, and were forced into Christianity.
Additionally, epidemic diseases, such as smallpox, came across the Atlantic with the Europeans and quickly affected millions of Natives who had no built immunity against these new viruses. The diseases alone reduced indigenous populations from millions to a couple thousand.
Furthermore, disputes between Native Americans and Europeans also account for the deaths of many natives. Europeans would regularly take resources that natives depended on for profit, such as the fur trade mostly perpetrated by the French in the mid-eighteenth century. With the increased demand for fur products in Europe, beaver populations went down, causing natives to hunt in European-conquered territory. The Europeans saw this as an attack, and gruesome battles would ensue.
Of the many effects of European colonization, the drastic population decrease of the indigenous populations is by far the one that changed the New World negatively. All of these factors contributed to the reduction of Native Americans, who once dominated North America, now only representing two percent of the United States population.
Thanksgiving stands to represent the pilgrims who survived with the crops that Native Americans introduced to them. But when we consider the immense ramifications it had to the natives, who kept the pilgrims of Jamestown and other settlements alive, this is not something we should celebrate. By continuing to celebrate this holiday, we make ourselves ignorant of what it means for the people affected. While most United States citizens eat turkey and watch football, modern-day Native Americans stand on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to honor ancestors and protest the celebration of the genocide of their people. As stated on the United American Indians of New England website, National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday, many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.
Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. Today, the 2.9 million Native Americans who live with the knowledge of their ancestors’ vicious struggles against the Europeans, are still people affected by the events that Thanksgiving represents.
It is much easier to sweep Thanksgiving’s true meaning under the rug and continue to blindly celebrate in the name of food, family, football and fun. But, by doing this we disrespect those who struggle with the gruesome history and modern-day implications. It is insensible to turn a blind eye to the genocide of indigenous peoples, who offered peace to the European colonizers and received disease, warfare, and oppression in exchange. Abolishing the holiday may be too extreme of a solution, but instead of turning a blind eye away from the history it represents, the only way to reach a solution for both sides is to address the problem directly. When trying to correct our mistake in celebrating this holiday with no consideration of how it has affected others, we must discuss the underlying problem together and come to a mutual solution. We need to stop using the cover of giving thanks to mask the mourning the country should really consider the fourth Thursday of November.