The Lies We Tell at Thanksgiving

By Chris Barton, Staff Writer

The story we, as Americans, are told about Thanksgiving is one of cooperation, mutual respect, and how much can be accomplished when we work together. The Pilgrims, struggling to figure out how to survive in the new world they had landed in, received help from the friendly Indians, who had taken pity on them and shared their hunting and farming practices. In return, the Pilgrims shared what they had, and a great friendship was launched. After their first bountiful harvest, the Pilgrims and the Indians, in gratitude of one another, got together and celebrated their friendship with a party and a feast. They all lived happily ever after.

This is the story I was told in grade school, and some variation of this story is being taught today to kids around the country. What is left out is the disrespect, violence, and genocide that followed that first Thanksgiving. For a brief moment in 1621, there was understanding and mutual respect; then came centuries of systematic oppression. Every year, we celebrate the former and ignore the latter.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to reflect on the fact that American culture holds itself in a tense balance. We celebrate our successes to excess, yet either ignore or belligerently attempt to justify our failures. Maybe we’re a great country, but even if that is true our greatness comes at the cost of forgetfulness, of a dishonest history protected by blind pride. Our culture is predicated on erasing the horrors we perpetrated to become great.

This year, Thanksgiving has an especially dishonest tone. We remember our friendship with the Native Americans, while in North Dakota our war of oppression enacts itself in increasingly tangible, violent, and brazen ways. The fight over the Dakota Access pipeline is as much about oil and water as it is about the pent-up frustrations from centuries of history entirely contradictory to the story we are told at Thanksgiving. Up there, there is no multicultural feasting, no peaceful cross-cultural celebrations. There is gassing, beating, attack dogs and bullets.

Acknowledge this. Acknowledge that the ideals we celebrate on Thanksgiving are not part of our national history. Acknowledge that we are teaching our kids a lie – a lie that allows us to continue the oppression of the indigenous people of this country. Acknowledge that every time we talk about the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag sharing a Thanksgiving meal without also talking about the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Trail of Tears, the Wounded Knee massacre, and the Dakota Access pipeline, we are complicit in the erasure of our country’s violent oppression of its native population.

Or acknowledge that on Thanksgiving we identify an ideal, a better time that we’d like to return to, a model of multiculturalism, compassion, and mutual benefit that should inform how Americans interact with each other. Acknowledge that this ideal is under attack, and has been for hundreds of years. It will not come to be unless people are willing to fight for it. At Standing Rock, people are fighting for it.

This year, I have something to be thankful for. I am thankful for those who stand with Standing Rock.


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