Decolonizing Thanksgiving’ busts myths about the holiday

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group of people making toast
In light of thanksgiving approaching, it is time to remember the problematic history of the highly celebrated holiday. In light of this, the Native American and Indigenous Student Association hosted a discussion titled "Decolonizing Thanksgiving. The discussion covered the history behind Thanksgiving and what the holiday means from an Indigenous perspective. Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

The Native American and Indigenous Student Association hosted a discussion yesterday titled “Decolonizing Thanksgiving” over WebEx. The discussion featured Indigenous faculty members from the University of Connecticut who discussed their relationship with Thanksgiving. 

“I hope they’ll learn about the misconceptions that our country has placed on Thanksgiving,” Efua Koomson, a sixth-semester actuarial sciences major and president of the Honors for Diversity club, said. 

Some of the main speakers at the event included Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre, an affiliate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Department of Biological Sciences, and Azucena Minaya, a clinical research assistant on aging at UConn Health Center. Both speakers spoke on their experiences celebrating Thanksgiving while also being of Indigenous descent. 

“We have a lot of family gatherings and it’s something you hold dear every day, it’s not something you just do on a special holiday,” Milligan-Myhre said. 

““We have a lot of family gatherings and it’s something you hold dear every day, it’s not something you just do on a special holiday.”

Dr. Kat Milligan- Myhre, affiliate professor at the University of Alaska

The discussion covered the history behind Thanksgiving and what the holiday means from an Indigenous perspective. Sixth-semester political science and human rights major, NASIA president and Native American Cultural Programs student coordinator Sage Phillips read the introduction from Tommy Orange’s book “There There.” 

Sage Phillips, one of the coordinators of the “Decolonizing Thanksgiving” discussion event, read the introduction from Tommy Orange’s book “There There”. Photo courtesy of the author.

“In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags to a feast after a recent land deal. Massasoit came with 90 of his men,” Phillips read. “That meal is why we still eat a meal together in November.” 

The passage also mentioned that a couple of years after Massasoit’s feast with the pilgrims, 200 Native individuals went to a meal meant to symbolize friendship with the pilgrims. The Natives who attended later died from an unknown poisoning.  

“200 Native individuals went to a meal meant to symbolize friendship with the pilgrims. The Natives who attended later died from an unknown poisoning.”

Phillips helped plan the event with Koomson. 

“We [Phillips and Koomson] were contacted by Honors for Diversity and we’ve been thinking all semester how we would put on an event that solely recognizes the truth behind Thanksgiving,” Phillips said. 

Azucena Minaya, a clinical research assistant on aging at UConn Health Center, reflected on her own relationship with the Thanksgiving holiday as a celebration that is celebrated differently, and not on the perceived Thanksgiving date, as her family does come from Peru. Photo courtesy of the author.

Later in the discussion, Minaya spoke about her relationship with Thanksgiving. 

“We [Minaya and her family] celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way, but not on this day  [Thanksgiving] because my family came from Peru,” Minaya said. 

As the event came to a close, Milligan-Myhre spoke about Native American children who were adopted by White families and were forced to assimilate to White culture and their relationship with Thanksgiving. 

“Those kids grew up to be adults who didn’t have a connection to their culture,” Milligan-Myhre said.  

Milligan-Myhre also went on to say she celebrates certain traditions with other Native American individuals. 

“I think it is important that we hold on to them [traditions],” Milligan-Myhre said.  

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