Our nation has time and again chosen a path of willful ignorance. This becomes especially concerning when it comes to the dignity and well-being of all people, and in this sense, Thanksgiving is no different. Before the United States even existed, indigenous people suffered as a result of our arrogance.
We remember the first Thanksgiving feast as a time of harmony, cooperation and more than anything, people from one culture recognizing and appreciating the humanity of people from another culture. This narrative is present in holiday pageants, textbooks, television and other popular depictions.
But what we neglect to include in our cultural accounts of the first interactions between Europeans and Native Americans is that which is less pleasant to visualize: decimation by disease, removal from ancestral lands, unthinkable violence and genocide against Native American peoples.
The gap between these alternative interpretations of history appears almost unbridgeable. The question is: How much stems from genuine misunderstanding, and how much is deliberately misremembered? It is important to consider whose visibility we are obstructing when we leave out the violent parts of history. Furthermore, why do we choose comfort over truth? And perhaps most of all, why do we pass on these deceitful tales to our children, who don’t know any better?
The truth is, history is easiest to understand and most attractive when any complexities or nuances are removed from it. The stunning misconception by the first settlers in America that there was only one God, one way of managing property ownership and overall, one way of life, is representative of this intrinsic desire for simplicity.
Americans present themselves to be immature and incapable of learning when they continue to oversimplify and group thousands of indigenous tribes together, continuing to refer to them as “Indians”, as if no one ever realized Columbus’ mistake when he “discovered” the Americas centuries ago.
Some argue that whether we like it or not, we are powerless in the face of past events. But we are not powerless when it comes to the future. We are able to rise above our ignorance and recognize that we would have no country if it weren’t for the people that we stole it from.
Thanksgiving certainly is not going to go anywhere. But as long as we celebrate, let us do so in the manner of responsible, thoughtful and educated citizens. Let us acknowledge history without abandoning all hopes that we might be better.
We must choose to affirm one another’s humanity while recognizing that the ability to renounce a group of people as less than human has never been in our power. We must honor human losses and condemn inhuman cruelty. Let us heal together.