In school, kids are often taught that Thanksgiving commemorates a picture-perfect, peaceful feast between pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621. These depictions are nothing more than a whitewashed version of the truth. Native Hope, an organization that works to address injustice done to Native Americans, points out:
November is Native American Heritage month, Nov. 29, 2019 is Native American Heritage Day, and Thanksgiving is a "Day of Mourning" for some Native tribes, per Native Hope.
“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. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”
Time's Sean Sherman, member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe and author of "The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen," suggests an alternate approach to Thanksgiving—one without whitewashed history, but keeping traditions of giving thanks:
The thing is, we do not need the poisonous “pilgrims and Indians” narrative. We do not need that illusion of past unity to actually unite people today. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.
According to Sherman, Thanksgiving often pays homage to indigenous foods, which he argues is something to be celebrated:
People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation, has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.
Sherman argues there is room for togetherness in a new age of Thanksgiving:
No matter where you are in North America, you are on indigenous land. And so on this holiday, and any day really, I urge people to explore a deeper connection to what are called “American” foods by understanding true Native-American histories, and begin using what grows naturally around us, and to support Native-American growers. There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.
Nevertheless, the Thanksgiving narrative is in desperate need of revision. As HuffPost's Terra Trevor puts it:
Forty-two years ago my Native community began a November Harvest Dinner tradition. It’s an intertribal gathering with traditional foods, song, dance, prayer, storytelling, conversation and laughter.
I find it ironic and sad that Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage month have been braided together in the month of November. Thanksgiving, as it has come to be observed in America is a time of mourning for many Native People. It serves as a reminder of how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, extermination of many Native people from disease, and near total elimination of many more from forced assimilation and as a reminder of 500 years of betrayal.