The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Thanksgiving: What are you celebrating?


I love Thanksgiving. It’s a day when I get to see relatives that I don’t see often. I go to a big family gathering at my cousin’s house in New York. The house is warm; we sit together at the dinner table and we eat, laugh, and talk about things we are grateful for.

This is the Thanksgiving I was taught to celebrate. Growing up in the Brookline Public School system, the narrative we were taught was one of the Wampanoag and the pilgrims sitting around a table in the 1600s the way our families do today. We were taught that it’s a day where we express gratitude for everything we have, and where we celebrate friendship. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Thanksgiving marks a dark time for many people within our community and the beginning of a bloody history not everybody knows.

This story I was told was similar to the one many Americans have internalized, but it has been taken out of context and romanticized. To understand the real story one must go back in time: 6 years before the Mayflower landed in the “New World” when Squanto, or Tisquantum, a member of the Wampanoag tribe, and a group of Indigenous people were captured by English slave traders and taken back to England.

While Squanto was gone, the Indigenous population back in the area that would soon become Plymouth experienced many deaths from smallpox, a disease the English brought over. By the time Squanto returned to his homeland, most of the people in his village had died and the Pilgrims had established themselves in their place.

With the help of Squanto, the remaining Wampanoags and Pilgrims established a good relationship. The Pilgrims were taught to survive the harsh winter, how to hunt and harvest, and many other necessary survival skills. In return, the two groups made a treaty; they would look out for each other against their enemies.

This sounds like the story we’ve been taught until we look at the bigger picture. By celebrating Thanksgiving we are romanticizing and telling only one side of history.

Colonists were actively hostile and violent towards Indigenous people; they actively participated in their genocide, and Thanksgiving makes it seem as if these two groups of people lived together harmoniously.

When the story of European expansion in North America is one of violence, bloodshed and broken promises, it doesn’t feel appropriate to celebrate a rare moment of cooperation.

As the colonists kept expanding, Indigenous autonomy rapidly faded, as they were pushed out of the land that their families had lived on for generations. Through disease, westward colonial expansion, and war, the Indigenous people of the American continent began to lose their homelands and their way of life. Colonists stole it from them.

A more specific example is the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. It was established with the goal of bringing peace between the European settlers and the Indigenous people. The treaty guaranteed 33 million acres of land east of the Mississippi River to the Sioux Nation. The United States government did not uphold this treaty. Today, the Sioux Reservations make up less than two million acres of land.

For many Indigenous people, Thanksgiving commemorates the beginning of the killing of Indigenous people by British colonists. Some members of the Wampanoag Nation view Thanksgiving as their national day of mourning.

So, on Nov. 23, have a celebration of togetherness with your family and friends, be grateful for what you want, but take a moment to acknowledge the things that aren’t often mentioned in the history that we learn.

Finally, in your celebrations, a moment can be taken to acknowledge the past. Recognize the real history of Thanksgiving and the harm that was done. And think about how we can move into the future together, and restore justice but remember to take a moment still to be thankful for everything you have.

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