By Frances Johnston
If you ask the average American what Thanksgiving means to them, they will, with pride and ignorant confidence, tell you that it’s a day meant to give thanks for the blessings of the preceding year and the blessings to come. Many believe it was a day built on a foundation of family gathering, love, peace and unity. However, they are sadly mistaken.
To the Native American community, Thanksgiving is labeled as a day of mourning. It is a day to remember the lives of their ancestors, family members and friends who had succumbed to and are continuously being affected by the disease of colonization.
In November of 1620, discouraged and exhausted European colonizers reached “the new world” they would later give the name Plymouth, Massachusetts. They were greeted by the Wampanoag Indians, who treated them with respect, generosity and equality. In return, the colonists viewed them as inferior beings and categorized them as inhuman, something more akin to animal than man.
The Natives provided these strangers with skills vital to their survival. They taught them how to plant and grow food, how to hunt, build shelter and survive the harsh winters. With this, they established the basis for Thanksgiving.
Although the Natives were rewarded for their generosity with an invitation to the colonizer’s first feast, they would later come to realize that they would also be repaid with betrayal and a multitude of diseases responsible for wiping out more than half of their population.
The day of Thanksgiving is acknowledged as The National Day of Mourning in the Native community. According to Moonanum James, son of the founder and Wampanoag Leader, “We call it a National Day of Mourning because when the pilgrims and Columbus all landed over here that was the end of our lives as we knew them—out land had been stolen . . . They opened our graves and they grabbed as much as they could take back.”
But the negativity of this day does not stand only for the Natives, “The demonstrators also lend their support to the oppressed and repressed people all over the world. . . It’s no different than what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany” says James.
It is a holiday of grievance for all they have endured, and a day to celebrate strength and resilience within their community and society. On this day, thousands of Natives gather in Plymouth to pay homage to the people and history lost in the tragedy of the time.
When it comes to the definition of Thanksgiving, although many see it as a day to spread love and appreciation for those we hold dear, it is also a day of remembrance of a great sadness, a sadness that will forever stain the heart of the Native community.