Why Americans need to rethink the way they celebrate Thanksgiving


Leah Allen '22

As Thanksgiving approaches, and in honor of Native American Heritage Month, it is part of every American’s civic duty to acknowledge the nation’s negative treatment of Indigenous populations.

The United States of America  (US) will celebrate Thanksgiving November 25, commemorating 401 years since the settlement of English colonizers in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620 and 80 years since former President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it a federal holiday, according to wbur.org.  While celebrations of Thanksgiving now center around the importance of family, gratitude, and national unity, for Indigenous populations in the US, the day serves as a reminder of the slaughter and displacement of their ancestors and the theft of their native land.

Annual Thanksgiving celebrations have become a staple in American culture. As such, part of every American’s civic duty should be to acknowledge the complex history of their country and consider ways to ensure justice and equality for all its inhabitants.

Native Americans have a rich and diverse history that all American citizens should celebrate.  Courtesy of Mr. Joseph Prezioso

After recent reckonings surrounding misinformation and white-washed history in American classrooms, elementary school teachers have worked to reframe the curriculum surrounding the origin of Thanksgiving.  Teachers report that the Thanksgiving story in some primary school textbooks tells a vague vignette of a “potluck-style” dinner between the pilgrims and their Native American neighbors where both groups exchanged food, materials, and cultural practices, according to time.com.  The historical inaccuracies riddled throughout the country’s Thanksgiving curricula helps to trivialize the Native American experience and hinder cultural awareness.

In their interactions with Indigenous populations, the US government has consistently exploited Native Americans and denied them their civic rights.  Native Americans obtained legal American citizenship in 1924, 148 years after the US declared itself an independent nation, according to time.com.  Today, only 22 percent of the 5.2 million Native Americans in the US live on their tribal lands.  The majority of Indigenous populations live on reservations, where experts claim that the conditions are comparable to those of developing countries, according to nativepartnership.org.

It may seem unreasonable to expect families to discuss the challenges and inequities facing Native Americans while enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, but remaining ignorant to these issues is to remain complicit in the continued mistreatment and suffering that Indigenous populations in the US endure.  In 1970, the United American Indians of New England declared Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning.  While some Americans are enjoying their Thanksgiving festivities, Native Americans who observe the National Day of Mourning fast for the entirety of the holiday to acknowledge the hardship and genocide that their ancestors experienced, according to wbur.org.

In a country that often fails to acknowledge both the struggles and successes of its minority groups, it is important that citizens make a personal effort to educate themselves on underrepresented communities.  Especially around Thanksgiving, it is crucial for Americans to make space for honoring the contributions of Native American citizens.

Native American populations in Plymouth, Massachusetts observe the National Day of Mourning to acknowledge the hardships faced by their ancestors and the struggles they continue to face today.  Courtesy of masspeaceaction.org

November is Native American Heritage Month.  The goal of this month is to pay tribute to the diverse ancestry of America’s Indigenous populations and recognize the struggles that Native Americans continue to endure, according to pbs.org.  Starting in 2015, Sacred Heart Greenwich has fostered a partnership with the Red Cloud Indian School, located on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.  Upper School students support the Red Cloud Indian School through community service and, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, participated in service and Lakota immersion trips to the reservation.

In an interview with the King Street Chronicle, Mr. Roger White Eyes, Lakota Language Teacher at the Red Cloud Indian School, spoke on the importance of learning about both Native American history and present life.

“The majority of America only knows the history of Native people but not the present,” Mr. White Eyes said. “We are still human. I think those who are not Native should do some research and educate themselves on the tribe that originally inhabited their areas.  Also, learn about present-day natives in the midwest.  This needs to be taught in schools from their point of view, exploring all the different cultures and emotions at the time.”

This year, as Thanksgiving approaches, it is important for Americans not to celebrate the holiday passively.  Recognizing the harmful aspects of the country’s history is crucial in order to move forward and establish a nation for which all Americans can be grateful.

Featured Image by Leah Allen ’22