According to the classic story of the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims and Native Americans shared a jolly feast to celebrate the bountiful autumn harvest. Hopefully, by college, most of us have realized that this Thanksgiving story is complete BS.
That story covers up how European Americans brutally massacred almost an entire population. It covers up the how we have socially, economically, and politically oppressed indigenous people. It covers up the continued horrendous mistreatment of Native Americans.
Many Native Americans get together on Thanksgiving to remember the dark history of this holiday through events such as The National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts or the People’s Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island.
Yet people who descended from the pilgrims should also use this day to remind ourselves of the true history of Thanksgiving and the current issues facing Native Americans.
Thanksgiving as a holiday serves a valuable purpose, and today, many Native Americans continue to celebrate it. Alexandria Treadway, a Cherokee sophomore at UGA, and Cori Bazemore-James, a Seneca graduate student at UGA, both enjoy spending time with family and giving thanks on this holiday.
"We still celebrate the same way we did with the traditional Thanksgiving foods,” Treadway said. “But I think we use it as a way to really appreciate being together with family and being thankful for having each other.”
The problem with Thanksgiving lies not in the fact that it exists but rather the misrepresentation of the history behind the holiday. Both Treadway and Bazemore-James agree that schools must change the way they educate students about the holiday.
"It angers me that Americans are taught from an early age a very romanticized lie about where the holiday comes from,” Bazemore-James said. "I also hate when schools continue to perform racist activities with their students such as coming up with 'Indian names’ and dressing up as ‘Indians.’"
On such a happy day like Thanksgiving, we often want to avoid the depressing reality that America was built upon the massacre of millions of indigenous people.
But, especially considering Thanksgiving falls during Native American Heritage Month, we should use this holiday as an opportunity to educate ourselves and others of the true history of indigenous people.
A fuller appreciation for how Native Americans have been abused in the past will motivate us to treat them betting in the present (have you heard about the Dakota Access Pipeline crisis?).
Just a few problems currently faced by Native Americans include poverty, unemployment, having their land taken away from them by the federal government, lack of access to proper, mass incarceration, and overcrowded, underdeveloped communities.
Solving these issues begins with better educating people about the history of the relationship between European immigrants and Native Americans. We must eliminate the myth of Thanksgiving and instead use the holiday to discuss the reality of how we have treated indigenous people throughout history. Only then can Thanksgiving be a positive holiday for every American.