Each year Americans prepare large meals and gather with their families to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. However, for many Native Americans, the holiday takes on a different meaning.
“In general, the brothers and sisters of my circle enjoy the day off from work and the company of family members,” said Adam Jay Calderon, 29. Calderon, a Los Angeles native and member of the San Carlos Apache and Zacateca Tribes, said the Thanksgiving holiday is an opportunity to celebrate his tribes’ survival. “As for us, we give thanks that we are still alive and our traditions and ceremonies are still being performed,” Calderon said.
For Paula Cleveland, a member of the Ho-Chuck Nation, the Thanksgiving holiday is not held in the same regard as many other Americans.
“It’s [Thanksgiving] is more of a white man’s holiday, like Columbus Day,” Cleveland, a Black River Falls, Wis. native, said. “Our families don’t have a get together for the holiday…Right now, we are still in the process of getting some of the land back to us that was taken,” Cleveland added.
For some Native Americans, the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday varies from person to person.
“It [celebration] depends on the family because a lot of them are married to people outside of the tribe,” said Diana Stone.
Stone, the education coordinator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Seminole Tribe of Florida, said that some Native Americans observe the holiday in some fashion.
“Unlike some, the Seminoles do not eat turkey because it’s not a part of their diet that’s something that makes them different from many other tribes,” Stone said. “The observance of the holiday depends on the person.”
Calderon agrees that the Thanksgiving observance for Native Americans depends on the individual and that some individuals may have ill feelings towards the holiday.
“As far as animosity, it really depends on the individual because those atrocities happened in the East Coast and there is a movement that has a Pan-American Indian identity but never Native takes that position,” he added. “You can ask 100 different people about your topic and you might get a 100 different points of views. Remember there are about 500 different tribes in America. The animosity is really towards the conquest itself.”
According to Andrew Frank, Ph.D., assistant professor of History at Florida State University, the American’s historical view of Thanksgiving has its share of inaccuracies.
“Historically we connect the images of Native Americans to the holiday. However, Thanksgiving began as a day set aside by [Abraham}Lincoln for a day of thanks and celebration,” Frank, a Plantation native, said. “The American view of the holiday is skewed and in order to keep the holiday going, images of Pilgrims and Native Americans are used.” “The holiday didn’t begin nationally until the 19th century,” he added.
For the United American Indians of New England, a national day of mourning for Native Americans was created. The event is held every year in Plymouth, Ma. as a way to “help shatter glass image of Pilgrims and the unjust system based on racism, sexism, homophobia and war,” according to the UAINE Web site. “Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers.
Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture.”