A drawing of a Native American Chief.

Image credit: Shutterstock

While most people celebrate Thanksgiving with family get-togethers and food, we must remain culturally sensitive to the fact that it’s a day of great sorrow for many Native Americans. In fact, we as a society have lost sight of what Thanksgiving truly stands for. It commemorates the arrival of the pilgrims, which resulted in mass genocide and land theft. So it’s rather understandable that most Native Americans don’t give thanks for that.

Rather than feast on turkey and pumpkin pie, Native Americans have their own tradition. It’s called the National Day of Mourning. Every Thanksgiving since 1970, indigenous people have gathered at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to pay tribute to the countless lives, customs, and rituals that have been erased. It can be thought of as a protest to the systemic racism and oppression that persists even today. But more than anything, the National Day of Mourning is about the pain and hardship that Native Americans have gone through.

Just to be clear, Native Americans don’t have a problem with expressing gratitude for life’s countless blessings; they have a problem with celebrating the annihilation of an entire people. Fox Tree illustrates this point well. Tree is a Native American public school teacher. She and her family have their own version of Thanksgiving.

“Our people have always been thankful for the Earth and our natural resources. My family hosts a dinner of thanks on the September equinox, where we give thanks for the seasons,” Tree stated in an interview with the Boston Globe.

Tree, like many other Native Americans, finds it disturbing that people openly celebrate a day of mass murder. But she also understands that the actual meaning of the day has been lost on many people. And yet, this is a perfect example of privilege. Those on the winning side of history can afford to forget about the suffering of their opponents. But those on the losing side? They will never forget.