We’re often told that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. What we’re not told is that he was responsible for the colonization of First Nations people, initiation of the transatlantic slave trade, and death of millions by murder and diseases. Many of his actions have lasting affects still apparent today. The U.S. Census stated that in 2014 the median income for American Indian and Alaska Native households was $37,227 compared to $53,657 for the nation as a whole. The Native population also lack educational resources and opportunities. Only 18.5% of American Indians and Alaska Natives 25 years and older obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 30.1% of the overall population (Census Bureau, 2015). In 1992, Berkley, California, was the first city to declare what was once Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day. So far 55 cities have joined the movement and replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day/Native Americans Day, or recognize both. Minneapolis began recognizing Indigenous People’s day in 2014 and St. Paul followed in suit in 2015.
Thanksgiving is an American celebration in giving thanks and sharing a meal with family and friends. The idea of Thanksgiving of Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting at a table sharing meal and giving thanks, has been a story told to us for many years. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. When the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock, they were poor and hungry — half of them died within a few months from disease and hunger. When Squanto, a Wampanoag man, found them, they were in a pitiful state. He spoke English, having traveled to Europe, and took pity on them. Their English crops had failed. The native people fed them through the winter and taught them how to grow their food (Pacific News Services, 1999). The idea that the first Thanksgiving was some kind of cross-cultural love between two groups, as it has been represented, is also doubtful by historians, who say that the settlers and the Indians were brought together less by friendship than by the extreme of their common need. George Washington made his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in 1789. In truth, our first president’s aim was not to rejoice, but pay acknowledgement of the survival of an imperiled nation (Huffington Post, 2011).
In the Native’s version of Thanksgiving, it is a beginning of the end. For the First Nation’s, Thanksgiving is seen as a time in remembering their ancestors, and of mourning for the lives that were lost. In fact, the end times began for Massachusetts Indians several years earlier, when British slaving crews unintentionally introduced smallpox killing over ninety percent of the local population, who lacked antibodies to fight the disease. (Huffington Post, 2011). So in this opportunity on Thanksgiving, it is a chance to give gratitude for this day, as well as reflecting. It is important to continue to educate ourselves on our history, and bring an accurate representation of Native American history into mainstream American culture. As these stories and history creates big impacts to us today, and challenges that the Native American communities faces still today.