A few years ago, Thanksgiving officially became our time to host both sides of our families and we were excited. We usually host between 15 to 20 guests because my husband enjoys cooking large meals. I enjoy the gathering since folks who come to our home include quirky friends we’ve collected along the way.
We plan for Thanksgiving all year long, so you can imagine the look of panic on Jim’s face when I posted my first anti-Thanksgiving article on social media. He asked nervously, “Are you ‘too woke’ for Thanksgiving.”
It’s was a good question.
Many of us grew up with Thanksgiving stories that focused on the myth of a peaceful cross-cultural exchange between the pilgrims and “Indians.” History books portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting colonial efforts in Plymouth in 1621. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic “Indians,” but it was the Wampanoag and the pilgrim planters who shared in a harvest celebration.
Over the years, indigenous folks have enlightened me that the historical mythology surrounding the pilgrims’ interaction that culminates around Thanksgiving is not a cause for celebration, but rather a reminder of colonization’s disturbing impact on their ancestors and future generations.
I have had the privilege of lively history lessons courtesy of my former neighbor (who calls the term “Indian” government BS and refers to his race as the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Clan). After inviting him and his wife over for Thanksgiving dinner, he schooled me about the way some Native Americans view the celebration. I offered an apology for my insensitivity, but for me, that was not enough.
I began by reading a speech written by Wamsutta James, founder of a National Day of Mourning. James calls Thanksgiving Day a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. The Day of Mourning is also a day of remembrance, honoring ancestors and a spiritual connection that often begins with sacred prayers before sunrise.
I continued to read statements suggesting that allies consider Thanksgiving as an opportunity to educate our families about our collective history and cross-cultural struggles that began with the first settlers.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Cedric Cromwell, chairman and president of the Tribal Council of the Mashpee Wampanoag, offered, “We are Americans as well, and so even today, I sit down at Thanksgiving with family. I do have that Thanksgiving meal on that day with family, but it gives me an opportunity to speak to the kids and the family about the truth of the day, and why that day is important to give thanks.”
This opportunity, along with changes like the celebration of “Indigenous Peoples Day” rather than “Columbus Day,” is how we can make room at the table for people who have historically been isolated. A few years ago, my friend and fellow Women AdvaNCe board member Kim Pevia wrote an enlightening piece, “Columbus Day: The Other Side of the ‘New World,’” about dualism and her thoughts about celebrating Columbus Day. She began with these moving words:
“We hide in plain sight beside you. Wanting to be seen, wanting to be heard. Voices and in some instances – languages silenced in the wake of what Columbus started. Now, we are less than two out of one hundred.”
According to Cromwell, “Some will say, ‘Why be so dark about it?’ Well, it’s real, it’s truthful, it was a holocaust, and that holocaust must be shared and communicated so that we ensure that mankind doesn’t do that to each other again.” Cromwell continued, “We know this world is made up of travesty and tragedy. We also know that this world is made of a lot of goodness and hope and honesty and integrity.”
And while I still plan to enjoy a delicious meal and give thanks with friends and family, I will not ignore the falsehoods about our Thanksgiving story and the invisibilized pain of others. I will take the opportunity to give thanks for health, family, friends and a beautiful new beginning in 2019. But I will start start Thanksgiving day with remembrance and reverence for our indigenous brothers and sisters.
Antionette Kerr is a local news contributor and freelance writer.