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The Whitewashing of America's Colonial History
Reckoning and Remembrance During Thanksgiving
For many years, the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States was my favorite holiday. It was a time when I got to eat a ton of delicious food and enjoyed a four-day weekend. My family took time to feel gratitude for all that we had in life.
What’s not to love about that?
When I was in grade school, I was taught that this holiday tradition originated from a bountiful meal that was shared between English settlers and Native American tribes in the earliest days of this country’s history.
Thanks to my college education and libraries everywhere, I came to learn that there was a lot of revisionist history going on. While there were peaceful exchanges between the settlers and indigenous people at least initially, the ultimate endgame was for Europeans and generations of white settlers to completely take over as much land as possible across several decades. The legacy of colonialism in America began when Columbus landed on its rich and open soil. From that point, the violent slaying of millions of Native Americans ensued. Tribesmen and women fought valiantly to save their homes, spiritual traditions, and way of life, but the tidal wave of opportunistic white settlers was unstoppable.
Imagine, if you will, someone knocking on the front door of your home while you and your family are enjoying a peaceful dinner one night. After you open it, a man stands there with a weapon and declares that your house, everything in it, and the land that it sits on is his. He charges in with an army of people and takes over your entire life by force.
What would you do? Would you fight back? Would you stand your ground?
Everyone who lives in the United States who is not of Native American descent lives on stolen land. This includes my family and me, for sure, and it is an unconscionable reality that I wrestle with.
The seeds of my misgivings were planted long ago when I was a teenager living on an island in the South Pacific called American Samoa. I was given an essay assignment in high school to compare and contrast two different villages on the island. The research I started doing as a result got me to start asking certain questions.
Why does one village appear to be less developed or poorer than the other?
Why are there more white people in one than in the other?
Why are there big Catholic and/or Mormon churches in both villages?
I did not know it at the time, but this little assignment was the portal through which I became aware of the long-term effects of colonialism on the culture, economic status, spirituality, and overall well-being of the indigenous people who were conquered. American Samoa has now been a colony of the United States for over a hundred years, for better or worse.
I made the short film Honor the Truth About Thanksgiving posted above as a way to share my thoughts on how colonialism ravaged the indigenous people of North and Central America. I want to believe that the Thanksgiving holiday will arrive at its own reckoning someday. More people are aware of its true history and are willing to stand by it.
Is it okay to be celebrating anything during a holiday that whitewashes the massive genocide of indigenous people?
My answer is no.
Currently, I light a memorial candle just before my family’s Thanksgiving meal in addition to verbally acknowledging the violence and brutality of this country’s colonial history. This action and the awkwardness it invites still feel shallow in the grand scheme of things. Some people choose to fast during this holiday while others ignore it completely. Even though I love spending time with my family, I will gravitate to one or both of those options in the future.
Until then, I will grapple with this and share the consternation I have. My misgivings are rooted in compassion for a multitude of indigenous people who never even got a chance to finish out their meaningful and significant lives in peace. Communities of indigenous tribes who are descended from survivors exist today and embedded in their DNA are the burdens and all of the suffering of this unforgivable past. They currently face the systemic racism and injustices that have been handed down by colonialism over the years.
This Thanksgiving, underneath the heaps of food and gluttony, is land that was once cared for and cultivated by indigenous people. They were hunters, gatherers, foragers, builders, and tribes of families spread across the continent.
They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and children. There were millions of them.
The expansion of colonial America was fueled by their blood.
If you would like to know more about alternatives to Thanksgiving that people are exploring, here are a couple of webinars that are worth checking out:
Rethinking Thanksgiving: From Land Acknowledgements to LANDBACK: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_BnqtqCYXQ6CvwNRbHlpP3A
Rethinking Thanksgiving: Solidarity with Indigenous Resistance, on Monday, Nov. 22 at 5 pm PT /8 pm ET: https://surj.org/rethinking-thanksgiving/
All images in this post are stills from my short film Honor the Truth About Thanksgiving and were acquired with various permissions, which are acknowledged accordingly in the end credits.
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