COLUMN: For indigenous people, Thanksgiving isn’t a celebration

In Opinion
picture of a girl looking upset while at Thanksgiving dinner with family
(Yongyi Chen/ Daily Titan)

Thanksgiving may be a widely celebrated holiday in America, but for people with indigenous blood, like myself, it’s nothing to celebrate.

Thanksgiving is just representative of a way and time in history that European settlers took over land and re-claimed the people and culture that was already established there.

Unfortunately, my family still celebrates Thanksgiving — whatever that’s about — with a dinner every year. We all sit around a table to eat the food that my grandmother makes. There’s laughter and loud talking, this is the part of the tradition that I enjoy. Being around my family is always fun and will always be something I appreciate.

But when it comes to the actual meaning of Thanksgiving, they’ve never told me why the holiday is important or why we’ve always celebrated it. I don’t think they really know what the answer to that is, or else we wouldn’t be celebrating it.

Thanksgiving is just a part of the culture we’ve known. We don’t ask why or how it came to be.

Everyone knows the basics of what Thanksgiving is: In 1620, Europeans known as the Pilgrims settled in North America, a region that was already inhabited by Native Americans. This interaction eventually led to the annual holiday known as Thanksgiving.

Indigenous refers to something or someone that originates from a particular region and Native Americans are indigenous to the Americas.

While I was always taught in school that Thanksgiving was a time of sharing and peace among the Native Americans and Pilgrims, nobody ever mentioned what all of this would mean for indigenous culture.

My family hasn’t seemed to put any real thought into that either. It wasn’t until I learned about the darker side of history and not just what they teach you in school, that I thought about why holidays like this one seemed so important to most people.

Before the Pilgrims, there was already bad blood between European settlers and indigenous people that had been established by earlier colonizers. For indigenous people, the events that inspired Thanksgiving are the beginning of the end of peaceful relations with European colonizers. After thousands more Europeans arrived, the relationship became more about fighting for land.

Previous to European arrival in North America, Native Americans that inhabited the area currently known as Mexico also dealt with turbulent relations with newcomers.

The Aztecs were a tribe that originated from Northern Mexico and their capital city was called Tenochtitlan. In 1521, the Spanish invaded this region and overthrew the Aztec empire. With Tenochtitlan under Spanish control, it became known as Mexico City.

What the Europeans ultimately did was take over lands and empires and eradicate indigenous culture. From our religion to our language, European culture replaced indigenous culture and has majorly influenced the traditions and customs we currently practice.

After the fall of the Aztec empire, Christianity spread throughout the area and eventually replaced the customs and traditions of the Aztecs.

The Catholic religion that most Mexican people, including my family, practice has been influenced by Spanish and/or European tradition. According to the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of Mexicans and 61 percent Mexican-Americans self-identify as Catholic.

Indigenous people have had their land taken from them, their culture taken from them. Now my people have to hear about how they illegally occupy the land that was stolen from them.

Thanksgiving will never be something that I recognize as good. I won’t ever see it as a celebration and I hope that more people with or without indigenous blood, question what exactly is it that we are recognizing and if it is something worth celebrating.

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