Thanksgiving, before my parents separated, was a major holiday in my household. I enjoyed it, as I loved the food. But Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday that feels right to celebrate anymore.
The Thanksgiving “story” that my school told us was not particularly unique. Native Americans and Pilgrims came together on Thanksgiving and had a feast. They became friends. That was it.
One of my friends invited me to come with her to an anti-colonial Thanksgiving dinner. The term “anti-colonial Thanksgiving” is not something I had heard of before. My Ashkenazi and Calvinist family was never affected by colonialism.
My friend, who I will call Dana, that I went with is Palestinian. Dana’s dad and grandparents had to leave when the Israeli government seized their land. Dana has very much been affected by colonialism.
Most of the people at that dinner were members of a Palestinian human rights group at my school. Like with the Thanksgiving meals I had growing up, we had good food. What was different were the conversations at this anti-colonial Thanksgiving.
Many of the speeches discussed colonialism and its continued impact. Many struggles that Palestinians and Native Americans face are similar. The support of Native Americans is necessary if you take part in Palestinian solidarity. Both are supporting the rights of indigenous peoples.
Later that night, Dana and I walked back to our dorm. I can’t remember what we were talking about. Instead, I remember what I was thinking about. I wondered what I could do as an individual to confront colonialism. I still wonder about this now. My first step was confronting the false history that I was taught when I was younger.
I was taught a white-washed, imperialist version of Thanksgiving. One that erased the brutality that Native Americans faced and continue to face at the hands of white settlers. One that also erased the fact that these white settlers stole land from Native Americans.
I grew up in Massachusetts, which is where Plymouth Plantation is located. Plymouth Plantation is considered to be the second successful settlement. But successful according to whom? It could be considered a successful settlement for people of European descent. I doubt Native Americans share the same sentiments.
I also started to think of the arguments people would give to defend Thanksgiving. It’s a good time to give thanks and that the United States was first colonialized centuries ago.
Well, I now have planned-out rebuttals for anyone who makes either of these arguments.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to give thanks to people in your life. Giving thanks should not come at the expense of erasing the pain that Native Americans faced and continue to face. A person can give thanks to people every day. They could give thanks by donating to or volunteering for charities that support Native Americans.
For people who complain that this happened centuries ago so we should not care: I ask them to look at any religions that they follow or practice. Catholics mourn the death of Jesus Christ every year. Christ died over 2,000 years ago. Jews mourn the brutality that their ancestors faced and their freedom. This was over 2,000 years ago, and I honor them every Passover.
Why do we celebrate the colonialization of Native Americans instead of mourning it?
Anti-colonial Thanksgivings are only a step in recognizing the pain that Native Americans continue to face, but it’s still a step. Settlers like myself need to recognize our continued participation in colonialism. If you are comfortable and able to, try to have a conversation about this at your own Thanksgiving tables this year. Acknowledging our history is maybe the best way to appreciate the U.S. and make it a better place.