GRAD 5214 – Diversity in the Conception of Thanksgiving

School is closed this week for the Thanksgiving holiday. I am pleased — about the closure so I can get a lot of school work done! The holiday? Not so much. I am not fond of Thanksgiving meal; it is meh for me. I am also ambivalent about how to celebrate the holiday, if celebrate it at all. In addition, I am used to Thanksgiving being on the second Monday of October, in Canada that is.

In terms of why Thanksgiving is a holiday, there is the mainstream simple plot and feel good narrative of the Pilgrims, Native Americans, Mayflower, Plymouth, harvest, feasting together, and saying thanks. But the American Indian perspective of the holiday is not a merry one. I came across various articles written about the holiday from their perspective. (A few of them are listed at the end of this posting.) Here are some of my take-aways.

  • The Pilgrims: The term was only used widely after the 1870s. It refers to a group of people who fled England to Holland seeking religious freedom. Holland was a safe Haven for them; the purpose of their voyage to America was an economic one.
  • Native Americans: A blanket term used to refer to the Wampanoag people who lived in the area. The Wampanoag taught the new arrivals to grow food.
  • New Plymouth: A settlement the Pilgrims established on the ruins of Patuxet village.
  • the first Thanksgiving: The native people of the area had fall harvest thanksgiving feasts. The concept was not introduced to them by the Pilgrims. In 1621, the governor of Plymouth threw a thanksgiving feast and invited the leaders of Wampanoag people, who brought their own food. In modern terms, it was a potluck!
  • For Native Americans, the modern-day Thanksgiving cannot be separated from the massacres that were perpetuated against their ancestors. One of the articles I read (and listed below) stated: “On May 26, 1637, near the present-day Mystic River in Connecticut, while their warriors were away, an estimated 400 to 700 Pequot women, children, and old men were massacred and burned by combined forces of the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Saybrook (Connecticut) colonies and Narragansett and Mohegan allies.”
  • Since 1970, the United American Indians of New England gather to commemorate the National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving day. This year, it will be on November 22, at Plymouth, MA. For the organization, “Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.”
How is this for diversifying the conception of Thanksgiving? (Caption is my own but see below for source of picture.) 

When we construct stories about events or anything else, let’s make sure diverse perspectives are included in a way that presents them as close to the reality as possible. Not knowing about the Native American perspective, I would have simply celebrated. My knowledge, however, makes me ambivalent about the holiday. Ambivalence is not bad; ignorance is.

Last week at my Toastmasters club, I was the Table Topics chair. I mentioned my ambivalence about the Thanksgiving holiday and asked one of my speakers to share what she is grateful for at this point in life, holiday or not. Of course, there is no escaping the turkey but she said she is grateful for life. I thought that was profound. I think we should all be grateful for life – even more grateful when we think about all lives lost, including Native American lives taken violently by ungrateful European settlers.


Click to access thanksgiving_poster.pdf

Source for picture:

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