By Karla Brollier
Racing Upwards Fellow

It has been 400 years since the “first Thanksgiving” and now the average American celebrates with a turkey dinner, family, and football and believes the myth that there was a happy feast between the Native Americans and immigrant Pilgrims. Yet, the truth is that this first Thanksgiving occurred in tandem with colonization. This myth is deeply oppressive and brutal in all accounts. We owe it to ourselves and our world to examine the truth of these harmful narratives.

Like many, I am sad that I won’t be able to head home to be with my family this year, but I also know that avoiding travel and large gatherings is the right thing to do, given that we are amid a pandemic. Now that we do have a little more free time this year, I invite everyone to learn more about the narrative that Thanksgiving imposes on our Indigenous families and peoples each year and examine why this narrative is harmful towards Native peoples.

This pandemic year is the perfect time to reset the narrative and collectively acknowledge that Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Native Americans and everything to do with whitewashed history and Native erasure. This is a great year to continue the conversation around Thanksgiving, the harmful history of the US, and how we can always do better and be open to learning history that wasn’t written by white folks.

While it is normal and even human to be sad about the loss of the Thanksgiving tradition, it is important to remember that there is a deeper loss, and that is the loss of taking the traditions of Native peoples for granted. We need to stop celebrating holidays, such as Thanksgiving, in ways that are harmful towards Native peoples. This represents a shift towards celebrating a holiday that doesn’t glamorize the false history told in schools but rather acknowledges squarely the attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples in North America. We need to stop pretending that the Indigenous peoples were not murdered or colonized over the course of America’s history, but rather that the history itself was hidden in order to make white folks feel more comfortable about the stolen land, past violence, and the active modern Native erasure.

If we rethink Thanksgiving this year, we can look deeper than a loss of its traditional celebration (there’s some irony there) and start to acknowledge the horrific and covered-up history of colonial behavior and mindset that is still attempting to silence the Native American peoples. Thanksgiving is a myth, and most of what we know about it is invented and entirely fiction. Indigenous curriculum is almost entirely left out of American education, which in effect silences the Indigenous perspective and creates a fictitious feel-good story that allowed settlers and their descendants to feel comfortable in claiming occupied space.

We can start to address this in a few simple ways, beginning this year.

First, we can acknowledge the true history of the land we’re on and honor the hardships endured by those who were the caretakers of this land before the settlers.

Second, we can create solidarity with Native peoples on this day and shift towards a narrative that does not actively silence Native people’s experiences. We can do this by integrating accurate Indigenous history into the Western school systems, by buying from Native-owned businesses, and making sure that any space that you occupy is viewed with a lens of equity and truth.

And finally, we can contribute to Native movements that create more equity, such as #landback, which focuses on revitalization of Indigenous knowledges and reconnection of human and land relationships.

The path to reconciliation starts with an honest acknowledgement of our past for a better future.

Here are a few resources to learn more about how to shift away from harmful narratives towards a more just future: