Should We Still Celebrate Thanksgiving?


By: Miguel Hernandez

For many, Thanksgiving is a time when family and friends gather together, enjoy an abundance of food, and give thanks for the things we usually take for granted. But as an indigenous and marginalized community, should we celebrate a holiday that symbolizes the oppression and genocide of native people?

When we hear about Thanksgiving, many of us think of Native Americans and their famous dinner with the pilgrims. Or about turkey, or just a break from work and school. But the reality about the history of Thanksgiving is much darker than we were ever taught. 

The historic dinner we associate with Thanksgiving happened, but not as we were taught in school. According to the South Carolina Department of Indian Studies, “the alliance between the Natives and the English was in part because the Wampanoag believed that the English would be useful allies because of their military strength and trade. Despite the alliance, the colonies took the lands of the natives.”

“This then led to the 14-month rebellion known as King Philip’s War… Due to conquest and the spread of disease, by the late 1800s, the indigenous population had dwindled to less than 250,000 people.”

The dinner of 1621 did not mark the beginning of a peaceful relationship between the settlers and the Wampanoag. In fact, the relationship between these two groups worsened and was disastrous for the Native communities. In 1637, 500 men, women, and children were burned alive in revenge for an alleged death of a colonizer. Following this massacre, William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, said, “for the next 100 years, every day of thanksgiving would be in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle was won” (Donnely 5).

When the reality about Thanksgiving Day was told to members of the Mixteco community, their perception of this holiday drastically changed. Stephanie Palma, a devoted community member, shared with frustration:

“It may still be a holiday but in my opinion I do not and would not celebrate this day considering all the dark history behind this holiday. I would not celebrate a day when my own indigenous race was murdered. It is as if I agreed with the murder of indigenous people.”

The misconception about what this day actually represents and what people think it represents symbolizes the battle against erasure and manipulation of the history of marginalized communities. Historically, century after century, minoritized and oppressed communities have fought to preserve the truth about their culture and their past. Efforts to change and erase the history of indigenous communities are a systemic way of erasing Native people’s history and identity. 

Other members of the community like Rio Loreno commented,

“You can continue celebrating Thanksgiving, but we must be aware of the history of that day. “We should take the time to honor the lives lost during the conquest and include our own culture.”

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