There is a story many Americans are taught about “the first Thanksgiving.” It often reads that in 1621, a group of people who called themselves “Pilgrims” came to Plymouth Rock from England and shared a happy, harmonious meal with the native people already living there. But that story isn’t reality, and according to the director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) at the U, Franci Taylor, it can be incredibly damaging.
“To appreciate another culture demands that you are educated on that culture,” said Taylor, a member of the Choctaw tribe. “Without that deep education, it’s appropriation. You cannot appreciate something you know nothing about.”
This Thanksgiving, here are five ways to celebrate with deeper appreciation:
Although many people believe the colonists invited the native people to a meal and befriended them, decades of warfare and land grabs followed the harvest fest of 1621. Taylor said the best way to recognize this event is to have compassion and understanding for others.
“This is one day when we should all be practicing kindness and empathy,” said Taylor. “Don’t create good guys and bad guys as was done then and is still done today. Bring people together instead.”
Taylor said the natives in North America viewed the colonists as less fortunate. The newcomers didn’t have food or know how to hunt deer and turkey, so the natives brought enough food to share.
“If you are sitting down to a buffet of food on Thanksgiving, remember that there are people right here in and around Salt Lake who are hungry and don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Taylor. “Be generous and share this time of year.”
Embrace those of other cultures and religions
Many schools will produce plays and share stories of “the first Thanksgiving.” While Taylor believes it’s wonderful to encourage children to embrace an American cultural story, she reminded everyone to be cautious.
“Although Hollywood would lead many to believe that everybody ran around wearing a headband with a feather stuck in it, that’s not true,” said Taylor. “Feathers have very specific spiritual and cultural meanings. Instead of trying to act out and reinforce a fabricated story, it would be meaningful and beneficial to take this time to educate yourself about other cultures and religions—the struggles they have endured, contributions they have made and their current lived experience.”
Choose relationships over material goods
With never-ending holiday deals and Black Friday followed by Cyber Monday, this can be a very commercial time of year. Taylor said to remember that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for the things and, more importantly, the people we already have in our lives.
“Instead of stressful, acrimonious discussions about religion or politics and staring at your phone doing some online shopping, spend quality time with loved ones and try to expand being thankful beyond just one day,” said Taylor.
Remember that native people continue to be a vital part of the fabric of our state and our country
There are eight federally recognized tribes in Utah, but Taylor said most people cannot name half of them. Native Americans did not disappear after the time of “the first Thanksgiving” story. They are still here, and they continue to make incredible contributions to our communities.
“My hope is that more people begin to recognize and understand the history and the present state of affairs for Native Americans,” said Taylor. “I think debunking the myth of the so-called ‘Pilgrims’ and Natives becoming great friends is an excellent start, and I think encouraging everyone to be kind and compassionate this time of year and all year would also help move things forward. That would make me very thankful this year.”