How indigenous people perceive ‘Thanksgiving’

Quick presentation on the truth behind Thanksgiving and what that day means for the Native. (Photo by Majdolin Al Jajeh/The Daily Campus)

Honors for Diversity (H4D) held an indigenous peoples event Tuesday to discuss how Native Americans perceive Thanksgiving today.

Fajar Alam, the vice president of H4D, began by playing a video by the Huffpost titled “Why These Native Americans Observe A National Day Of Mourning Each Thanksgiving.” In this video, Moonanum James, an organizer for the National Day of Mourning, discussed the truth behind the first Thanksgiving. He said that it wasn’t a feast the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoag during a time of peace in 1621, but rather a feast held by Governor Winthrop in 1637 to thank those that helped him massacre the Pequot people in Mystic, Connecticut. Thus, rather than considering Thanksgiving a day of peace between two people, the Native Americans consider it a day of mourning.

“I never knew that that whole Thanksgiving feast was like a, well, like the pilgrims’ celebration of the Native Americans’ massacre at Mystic,” Meco McFadden, a first-semester exercise science major, said. “That’s a really sick and twisted thing.”

The National Day of Mourning was begun in 1970 by James’s father. On this day for the past 48 years, Native Americans have travelled to Plymouth Rock to hold a prayer and deliver speeches. The goal of this day is to help raise awareness that the Native Americans are still here and still dealing with the same problems they’ve had to face since the arrival of the Pilgrims. Native Americans are still suffering from the alcoholism, poverty and reoccurring theft of land (the Keystone XL Pipeline) at the hands of the American government that they’ve had to deal with for nearly four centuries. Only now, they also have rampant high suicide rates, obesity and diabetes on top of everything.

“It’s kind of sad it’s been twisted into a national holiday, and we were all misled,” McFadden said. “I know I was misled as a child in grade school, where they would tell that they [Native Americans] were living happily and peacefully, but I never knew that they were slaughtered like that in Mystic, so that’s kinda disappointing.”

Alam showed another video titled “What does Thanksgiving mean to Native Americans?” by TRT World. In this video, two Native Americans, Vincent Schilling and Eryn Wise, listed that Thanksgiving means rape, genocide and loss of land to them. They do not celebrate either the holiday nor the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Schilling said he and his wife fast on Thanksgiving to mourn the plight of the Native Americans, while Wise said she commemorates the day by recommitting herself to Native American activism.

“Because I am not Native American, it is really interesting to learn about the Native Americans’ culture, because Thanksgiving is coming soon,” third-semester human development and family studies major Grace Liu said.

Alam suggests students should take a new approach to Thanksgiving this year in a few different ways: By discussing the true origin of the holiday, understanding gratitude and autumnal feasts were a tradition of the Native Americans prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival and respecting the Native Americans and all they’ve gone through.


Rebecca Maher is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.maher@uconn.edu.