Ashley N. McCray and Lawrence Ware: Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving

Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving

Ashley Nicole McCray/Lawrence Ware, Counterpunch, November 26, 2015

It’s Thanksgiving once again: that day, every year, when we are all gluttonous to celebrate the fact that ‘Pilgrims and Indians’ had a harmonious meal — at least that is how it has been framed historically.

Let’s be honest. On the last Thursday of November, every year, we celebrate the beginning of an European invasion that ends with the death or relocation of millions of native people. While many have tried to redefine the meaning of Thanksgiving into a time wherein we cultivate a sense of gratitude, the undeniable truth is that the blood of native people stains the genesis of the holiday.

The colonial origins of Thanksgiving – or what many natives often refer to as Thankskilling or Thankstaking – is not something to celebrate. While we cannot pinpoint one specific or original “Thanksgiving” celebration, President Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday in 1863 and conceived it as a national day of thanksgiving. “Pilgrims and Indians” weren’t included in the tradition until 1890. The national mythos surrounding this holiday does not take into consideration the long and violent history of contact between European settlers (in this case English pilgrims – puritans) and indigenous populations that already inhabited the land. It is in these forgotten histories that we see the history of this holiday for what it truly is: English pilgrims, unprepared to survive on the land and unfamiliar with the vegetation, waterways, and others food sources, stranded on Turtle Island who survive those early winters and ultimately engage in a brutal campaign of colonialism and genocidal activity.

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