We all know the story of Thanksgiving, and thanks to cartoons abundant from our childhood, we are able to vividly picture the candy-coated relations between Native Americans and European pilgrims. Now that we’re grown, we understand that these depictions are everything but false. We celebrate this day to express our thanks for the blessing of harvest and relationships, but we wouldn’t be able to do this without the help of the people that lived on this continent first. And how did we thank them?
The white man’s relationship with American Indians has been controversial and there’s no secret as to why that is. Over the years, we have massacred Natives through violence and disease, we have forced them from the land that was—and is—rightfully theirs and we have assimilated them to meet our definition of a “civil” human being. Today, they are treated no better. Their culture is degraded with mass-produced Halloween costumes and over 25% of them are currently living in poverty, higher than any other ethnic group in the United States (source).
Let’s take a trip back into the past, when the first white settlers met ground on the east coast of North America.
We knew nothing about this new land. We didn’t know where we were and how to live off the soil. Our first colonies failed; starvation and disease were rampant. It wasn’t until the settlement at Plymouth that pilgrims began to thrive. Arriving during the winter, malnourished from the voyage across the Atlantic, pilgrims were especially vulnerable to Indian tribes. Their first interaction with Natives, however, was peaceful.
They offered help to us. They taught us what to grow and how to grow it in order to survive. We made peace deals with the local tribes. It was all fine and dandy; we coexisted.
We began to expand, though. More of us emigrated over from Europe and took up larger amounts of land. We pushed the Native Americans back. As we grew, we found ourselves superior and worthy, and fought to win the land that we viewed—for whatever reason—as “ours.”
To the people who helped us survive when we were our weakest, we gave disease-infested blankets in order to wipe them—the enemy—out. We took villages and raped women. Through the years, we established our dominance over the people who lived here 10,000 years before we did.
We forced them to conform to our culture and away from their culture and form of life. One of our own presidents had Natives march 2,200 miles from their land—the land they had lived on for thousands of years—to a new location, in order to make way for the growing white population. The Trail of Tears not only humiliated the Indian culture, but it killed their hope and spirits, as well as killing many people in the process.
Though we are at peace with Native Americans today, there is still unfair treatment. Tribes barely hold a fraction of their land, not enough to live on. They are discriminated against and not taken seriously in many professional environments. We have brushed off their beliefs as hocus pocus, while they were forced to accept our ideas of Christianity and mainstream religion. Native Americans do not live comfortably in modern America.
And yet we embrace our relationship with Native Americans in a holiday called Thanksgiving. We celebrate our thankfulness of food and family, when repopulation and survival would not have been possible without the help of the Indians. Native Americans are, arguably, the most mistreated minority group in our country. They are deserving of so much more than they have received in the past six hundred years.
So this Thanksgiving, let’s take a moment to honor the Indians. Take a moment out of your family-filled, food-stuffed day to think about the living—and dead—Native Americans. Think of all the blood spilled, the tears cried, the babies left in the hands of disease. Think of how we’ve treated the American Indians since coming here, when we should be thanking them for our lives.
This holiday, visit your closest reservation, take a moment to educate yourselves on your nearest tribe’s beliefs and way of living, donate to a cause, speak out against the treatment of Native Americans. This year, you can choose to eat food, stampede for shopping deals and watch football; or you can choose to support humanity.
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