Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, millions of families in the United States reunite to celebrate Thanksgiving and reflect on the good things in life. On this day, people usually have a big feast with turkey as the star-meal, besides other foods such as mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies. And, besides spending some time with their relatives and eating, it is also common to watch football.
Even though this holiday may seem innocent and unoffensive, more and more people are labelling this celebration as offensive and racist due to its historical background, which is different from what Americans learn at school.
According to what it is commonly told, in 1630, a ship named the “Mayflower” with 102 people aboard left Plymouth, England towards what they called “New World”. Between these people, there were religious practitioners full of hope to find a place where they could freely practice their faith and people who had been bribed by the promise of lands. After 66 days, they arrived at Cope Cod, Massachusetts –far north from their intended destination: Hudson river. A month later, the Mayflower went across the Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims –how the passengers are now known—settled a new village. After their first winter, only half of the original passengers survived due to exposure, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious disease.
In March 1631, colonists moved ashore, where they were visited by an Indian Abenaki, who greeted them in English and a few days later came back with another Native American known as Squanto. He was the one who taught the Pilgrims how to grow their own corn, extract sap from maple trees, fish and avoid poisonous plants. Not only did he teach them how to survive, but he also helped them to forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe.
After a successful harvest, the settlers decided to hold a three-day celebration and invited their Native American allies. Although this is what is usually told, there are no actual proofs that can confirm whether Native Americans were invited, some people think they weren’t really invited, but they passed by while the celebration was being held so the Pilgrims felt the need to invite them. This celebration is the one people refer to as “the first Thanksgiving”, but the colonists never really used that word.
Even though this is the commonly told story, there is even more historical background that people rarely talk about. Teachers never mention what occurred in 1637 when Massachusetts’ governor officially celebrated Thanksgiving for the first time after ordering a mass murder of Native Americans during the Pequot War. This mass murder is the first Native American genocide, followed by many more for the following 200 years only to take their land.