Grappling with the true history of Thanksgiving

Students say glossing over facts a disservice

Tae Yun (Erica) Kang, Managing Editor

Even though her father is Indigenous, junior Kira Kennedy had celebrated thanksgiving like many Americans do: with turkey, stuffing and hearing stories about the first celebration between Pilgrims and Native Americans.

“He ignored the meaning of the holiday and focused on the more positive aspects to prevent ruining the gathering,” Kennedy said.

With Thanksgiving break a recent memory, the unvarnished history may be fresh to students raised on the simplified version of the first celebration of the 1621 colonial harvest meal. Indigenous Peoples in America recognize Thanksgiving as a day of mourning and the loss of their land.

“I was taught the same way as everyone else was with the disregard of the true history and meaning of Thanksgiving,” she said. “I learned about the true history of the holiday in fifth grade, but we pretend- ed the indigenous people and colonists lived together in harmony when we met our preschool buddies for a Thanksgiving party.”

Teaching the difficult history to school- aged children is not lost on Ethnic Studies teacher Stefanie Menera, who thinks that teachers should give kids more credit in dealing with complicated topics such as colonialism and Native American history.

“They not only deserve to learn truthful stories but they need to, regardless of the sometimes uncomfortable themes like violence and racism that we as adults do our best to shield them from,” she said.

While acknowledging the history of death between the indigenous people in the United States, Ethnic Studies teacher Stefanie Menera celebrated Thanksgiving more as a day of gratitude. Even the simple idea of celebrating with her family and loved ones comes with some feeling of conflict.

“I can’t understand how the prominence and commercialization of this holiday is perceived by Indigenous people and wonder if maybe it should be celebrated at all sometimes. I don’t have all of the right answers, but at this time this is what feels alright to me.”

The Ethnic Studies class taught by Menera recently studied a unit called “The Myth of Discovery” where they dove deeper into Christopher Columbus and the discovery of North America.

The previous holiday of Columbus Day has also been more recently referred to as Indigenous People’s Day. Still, November is more focused on pumpkin pies and family feasts than celebrating the culture and traditions of the Native Americans, despite it also being the their heritage month.

“When students have the opportunity to learn the harsh realities of the past, (as they do here at Branham) they have a more complete understanding of the world around them,” said Menera. “Students can use that knowledge to empathize with Indigenous people and other historically marginalized groups and then take steps toward actions that make the world a better place.”