Native American group explores impact of Thanksgiving

Robyn Berardi

Opposition of Thanksgiving from Robyn Berardi on Vimeo.

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a day to spend with family and reflect on what they are grateful for. However, for Native Americans, Thanksgiving has a different meaning.

The Native American Student Association (NASA) honored the hardships and tragedy Native Americans have faced at the Opposition of Thanksgiving Feast on Nov. 15.

Many people remember celebrating Thanksgiving in elementary school by dressing up as Pilgrims and Native Americans complete with construction paper headdresses and Pilgrim hats.

Some members of NASA remember participating in these activities as children and they now realize the damage they can cause to how Native Americans are perceived.

“I remember feeling like it was wrong on some level and not quite understanding the practice,” said Leanna Maguire, director of relations of NASA and senior anthropology major, forensics minor.

“I distinctly remember being like six years old in first grade (and dressing up as Native Americans and Pilgrims) right before Thanksgiving break and being like ‘This isn’t right. Like, this does not feel right,” Maguire said. “Where are these people and why are we pretending to be them and they’re not here?’”

President of NASA Lyric Aquino, senior journalism and anthropology major, who is Native American, thinks that children in schools are improperly taught about the history of Native Americans and are not educated that Native Americans still exist today.

“In school were taught about Pilgrims and Indians, but we rarely ever touch on the massacres and then we’re supposed to celebrate and be thankful for the fact that the Pilgrims and the Natives came together, but it wasn’t a coming together,” Aquino said. “It was literally brute force, sickness and mass destruction that the Natives succumbed to and I just don’t think it’s okay to celebrate that.”

Instead of traditionally celebrating Thanksgiving, many Native Americans celebrate a National Day of Mourning.

According to Mass Moments, a daily almanac of Massachusetts history, a National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when a group of Native Americans at a Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth walked out in protest. It is a day to remember the suffering Native Americans endured when European settlers arrived in America.

For members of NASA, Thanksgiving is not only a time to spend with family and focus on what they are grateful for, but it is also a time to reflect on the historical context of the holiday and this suffering Native Americans have endured.

“Thanksgiving should be more about giving thanks for your family and what you’re grateful for in your own life, but also taking time to acknowledge Native American history and culture in a respectful manner and focusing on how the Thanksgiving feast all those years ago wasn’t actually how it’s depicted in film and media,” said Maren Parchen, junior anthropology major and religious studies minor and co-vice president and co-treasurer of NASA.

There are still ways to celebrate Thanksgiving while being respectful of Native Americans.

“This could be done by giving back to marginalized groups of society and by connecting with the land and food that nature has provided,” said Angel Motz, co-vice president and co-treasurer of NASA and junior cultural anthropology major.

“We definitely have to reconnect with the true history of what happened and not have this sugarcoating of events that were tragic for the Indigenous people on the land that we now call home,” Motz said.

Robyn Berardi is a diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected].