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Library of Congress
argument / culture

Thanksgiving: The National Day of Mourning

A Native student explains why the holiday is a painful reminder of a whitewashed past.
Being a young, Native student in America during October to late-November is complete mental exhaustion. This time of year in particular, society continuously pushes us into oppressive climates where we are gaslighted through a series of holidays that either reimagine history, play on and exploit painful stereotypes, or both.

Columbus Day dresses up the genocide of our people as 'civilizing us,' Halloween perpetuates the stereotypical "Indian," and the worst yet is Thanksgiving: the most nationalized, white-washed version of history ever to happen to a marginalized group. On top of the very real, everyday problems Natives currently still face, like living without running water or electricity, respected national institutions readily erase our history on this holiday. They mock us by wearing brown shirts to mimic our skin, using us in their plays and crafting sacred cultural items — like dream-catchers and headdresses — for classroom festivities.

Bear in mind, we Native Americans were prohibited from practicing our own culture until just under 40 years ago. But still, schools take aspects of our culture and distort them for fun and offensive activities, in the name of teaching 'history.' I've witnessed, for instance, schools allow students to make up their very own 'Indian name' (which by the way, was a special ceremony for me conducted by a Medicine Man and Woman).

These practices are extremely detrimental to Native youth because it effectively teaches us that the blatant racism against us is acceptable and allows a highly negative representation of our culture to be portrayed in the media. This also has a lot of negative impacts, furthered by the way the U.S. government treats us as a demographic.

I want to highlight the recent incident in North Dakota where Natives lost their right to vote (reminder that we were also the last to receive it). Natives are also exposed to mass amounts of racism during the first year of our Western educational journey (pre-k), which has been normalized for so long that even my parents had a hard time pin-pointing it. I myself was usually the only Native student enrolled and was put into school plays where I was given the role of the 'happy Native boy bringing food to share with the Pilgrims,' followed by a feast where we give 'thanks' and come together as one. In reality, the actual history behind Thanksgiving day is dark and twisted.
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