Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved Thanksgiving. It was a holiday centered around food and was typically the only time I got to see my extended family. Sure, it was also when I usually got my birthday presents, but that’s beside the point.
Growing up, I clung to the idea that Thanksgiving was a day to celebrate peace. I assumed that the history I was taught by my elementary school social studies teachers was accurate.
Naive as I was, eventually, I had come to the realization that Thanksgiving wasn’t something to be celebrated. The true origin of Thanksgiving has little to do with peace.
The history of Thanksgiving begins in a semi-familiar way. There was technically a peaceful feast, but a lot happened before that.
In 1614, English explorers captured Patuxet Indians and brought them back to England to be sold into slavery. The rest of the tribe that remained in the New World died after being infected with the smallpox virus. The only member left of the tribe was Squanto, who had survived slavery in England and was able to act as an interpreter between Pilgrim representatives and Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. Squanto was able to connect the two groups, which lead to the Pilgrims surviving their first year.
This is when the story we’re used to occured. The Pilgrims then held a feast in honor of Squanto and the Wampanoag Nation. After that feast is where the true story of Thanksgiving becomes more sinister.
When word spread to England of the amazing aspects of the new land, British settlers and Puritans decided that the land was up for grabs. Because there were no official boundaries, settlers felt justified in their action. They took the land, enslaved the Native Americans and killed anyone they didn’t take. This became the start of the Pequot War.
The war lasted about 11 months and reached a turning point in 1637. Over 700 members of the Pequot Tribe gathered for the Green Corn Festival, an annual celebration of Thanksgiving.
The English and Dutch mercenaries surrounded and ordered them to come outside. Those who followed the orders were shot or clubbed to death. Those who stayed inside the longhouse were burned alive.
The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving,” in direct reference to those they had killed.
After 1637, there were multiple Thanksgiving celebrations a year. Each followed a massacre that killed more Native Americans.
In 1789, George Washington decided the American people should celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November so Americans can be thankful for the establishment of government. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln officially declared it to be a national holiday.
The gruesome past of Thanksgiving showcases some of the worst times in North American history, which is something we should remember — not celebrate.
The aspects of Thanksgiving that we love are not inherently wrong. You can enjoy food, sports and built-in-vacation time, just don’t celebrate. The true story of Thanksgiving shouldn’t be forgotten for some turkey. You can use Thanksgiving as a time to learn about the real history surrounding the holiday. Instead of celebrating, you can make it a day of learning about minority groups. Their struggle hasn’t ended -- it’s just been ignored.
You shouldn’t accept a downplayed version of history in order to get a holiday. Be thankful, but also be informed. You can spend time remembering all the good things in life, but don’t let that erase the bad things in history.
Thanksgiving has a built-in tragedy and ignoring that means we fail to learn from the past. By refocusing the holiday time on the important parts of life, it also allows time to become aware of the struggles of Native Americans.
Don’t just give back to those who are easy to access. Find ways to support Native Americans in preserving their history. Seek out ways to help Native American communities fight for rights to their land. You can donate time or money, participate in protests, buy native products or even just learn and inform others. Step out of the high school social studies class, and understand that continuing to celebrate Thanksgiving isn’t morally or ethically right.
This Thanksgiving, you should be thankful, but not ignorant.