Thanksgiving: A Day of Celebration or Mourning for Native Americans?

By Nadra Kareem Nittle
Thanksgiving has become synonymous with family, food and football over the years. But this unassuming American holiday is not without controversy. Schools still teach children that Thanksgiving marks the day that Pilgrims met helpful Indians who gave them food, farming techniques and more to overcome the bitter New England cold. The children color cutouts of happy Pilgrims and happy Indians which ignore that contact between the two led to the decimation of millions of Native peoples. To raise awareness about the price indigenous people paid for Thanksgiving, a group called the United American Indians of New England established Thanksgiving as its National Day of Mourning in 1970. The fact that UAINE mourns on this day poses a question to any socially conscious American: Should Thanksgiving be celebrated?

Why Some Natives Celebrate Thanksgiving
The decision to celebrate Thanksgiving divides even Native Americans. Jacqueline Keeler wrote a widely circulated editorial about why she, a member of the Dineh Nation and Yankton Dakota Sioux, celebrates the holiday. For one, Keeler views herself as “a very select group of survivors.” The fact that Natives managed to survive mass murder, forced relocation, theft of land and other injustices “with our ability to share and to give intact” gives Keeler hope that healing is possible.

In her essay, Keeler makes it clear that she takes issue with how one-dimensionally Natives are portrayed in commercialized Thanksgiving celebrations. The Thanksgiving she recognizes is a revisionist one. She explains:

“These were not merely ‘friendly Indians.’ They had already experienced European slave traders raiding their villages for a hundred years or so, and they were wary—but it was their way to give freely to those who had nothing. Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect.”

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Comment by Debra Rincon Lopez on November 21, 2012 at 5:41pm

I give thanks for the Blessings that the Creator has blessed me with. I am Native American lady who was raised by both Native mother & Father. I have seen the Americanized side & the traditional sides of our Cultures & heritage. I was so angry in the past of why this is a Celebration??? But it means something entirely different to me now. I still want the TRUTH To BE TOLD, history needs to be Straightened out soon!! I hope sooner than later. But I won't dwell on hate, it's not my nature. I don't condone Europeans coming here & stealing our lives & everything were about, It's a Travesty, but I won't give them the pleasure of repeating the lies that THANKSGIVING Portrays, It's Not for PILGRIMS in My eyes, they are nothing in the world celebrate, It's for my LIFE & my families Survival as Native Indigenous People who still live in Oregon where our ancestors came thousands of years & we will remain forever, Until the Last Native dies upon this EARTH!!!

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