Thanksgiving: The History, The Holiday, The Controversy

'The First Thanksgiving' painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
'The First Thanksgiving' painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

One of the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in November 1621 as a feast shared between the colonist in Plymouth and their Native American allies, the Wampanoag tribe.

It was a three-day event, according to the History Channel, set aside to celebrate the fact that the colonists made it through the harsh winter, thanks in part, to survival tools they learned from a Native American named Squanto.

Squanto was fluent in English as a result of being kidnapped by an Englishman before escaping to London and returning to his homeland. Now, for most Americans, Thanksgiving is a time of family gathering, excessive cooking and reminiscing about the past. 

However, in a country built on conquest, mass massacre and genocide, it becomes questionable if Thanksgiving should be celebrated. The reasons why are many and easy enough to find. 

Native Americans, for example, have been faced with hate, displacement, and disrespect due to European settlers. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced members of the Seminole, Cherokee, Muscogee and Chickasaw tribe to leave their homelands in the southeastern portion of the United States and move west of the Mississippi River. The move was done so white settlers could grow cotton on the land that had housed more than 125,000 natives for years. This effort brought about what became known as the "Trail of Tears" and was devastating to those tribes. 

Likewise, white settlers often feared and hated the Native Americans, calling them "primitive" because their civilizations were different from that of the Europeans. These same settlers felt as if they entitled to the land they stole. 

Today, hate crimes and mistreatment of people of color still exist. Also most days there are news reports of racial slurs thrown at brown people and sometimes even brutal violence from those in power - specifically police officers. 

So, the question remains just what are we celebrating at Thanksgiving and, more importantly, why?

By Stephanie Owens