A Day of Remembrance

Known as a time of gathering to appreciate scrumptious food and the company of family, Thanksgiving traditionally commemorates the perseverance of the Pilgrims during their first winter. Based on that tradition, families gather to express gratitude for their bounty of food and for the wellbeing of friends and family. However this holiday, as it is commonly celebrated, recognizes the history of white settlers and their grit in surviving as newcomers to Plymouth while overlooking the perspective of Native Americans.

In 1620, British colonists sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts on the Mayflower during the Age of Exploration to create a colony. Bombarded with the challenges of a tumultuous winter and disease outbreaks, half of the original Pilgrims die. Glorified stories describe that Squanto, an indigenous member of the Patuxet tribe, who later lived among the Wampanoags, played a crucial role in the survival of the unacclimated colonists. With Squanto’s guidance, the colonists were able to adapt to the unfamiliar landscape, harvest local crops, avoid poisonous plants, and even forge an integral alliance with a nearby Native tribe. This often repeated story concludes with the newly settled Pilgrims and Wampanoags tribe harmoniously joining a great feast together that lasted several days.

Historians recognize that this romanticized narrative is historically inaccurate at best –and fiction at worst –and is biased in favor of the colonist perspective. Beyond this, from the standpoint of Native Americans, the Pilgrim’s presence and short-lived alliance is based on the exploitation of Indigenous resources to allow for colonial expansion, and is marked by the spread of disease that obliterated their civilization. These factors created a shift in the balance of power to favor the colonists rather than the Wampanoag. This perspective is often overlooked beyond the Wampanoag who commemorate Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning and recognize the genocide that would occur in the years following the arrival of European settlers. 

While the day after Thanksgiving is commonly known as “Black Friday,” it is also National Native American Heritage Day. As we gather with our families and enjoy a festive meal, we must also acknowledge the holiday’s complicated legacy and recognize the experiences of Native Americans to have a complete view of this day.