Social Policy

No Thanks Thanksgiving #NoDAPL

The general theme behind Thanksgiving is a lie, yet we celebrate it as if its ‘history’ is true and sacred. It took me years to learn the truth behind the holiday that is never taught in school. In elementary school I remember drawing an outline around my hand that was transformed into a turkey with markers and a few colorful feathers. This was a yearly activity where teachers plastered all of my peers’ hand-turkey creations along the walls of halls. As a child this is how I saw Thanksgiving, a fun activity.

Later in grade school we learned about Squanto, the Indian who taught pilgrims how to survive on this land when they 1st arrived. We learned about the friendship that developed between the two groups as a result. This friendship led to a celebration that occurred in the form of the feast, centered around a turkey. This historic event was Thanksgiving and as a young student this is how I saw Thanksgiving, a day of people eating together.

In high school I looked forward to the holiday because every year my mother would drive my cousins and I for a 12-hour road trip from Detroit to Atlanta. There my grandfather had a big house and all of the Wilsons would gather together, this was a tradition that I looked forward to until his death in 2010. After going to the funeral we haven’t been to Atlanta since. As a teenager I saw Thanksgiving as an opportunity to see distant cousins, uncles, aunts and other loved ones.

Now I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.

Although the days of road trips and round-table gatherings with my Grandfather are gone, I always wondered, if the celebration recognized the historic union between the Natives and colonists, then why don’t both groups celebrate the holiday? Then I learned that these people weren’t even Indians, they were just called Indians by a confused Columbus. How could we trust a history that continues to use a false name to describe an entire group of people? Calling a Native American ‘Indian’ erases the truth, that they are the original American. They are one of the only Americans that aren’t immigrants, along with African Americans who were forcibly transported to America as slaves.

The unifying feast that we celebrate as Thanksgiving every year ended with a poisonous drink that wiped out Squanto and all of the other Native American attendees. This is why Native Americans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, they are protesting while we are feasting. This year during the holiday Natives and other non-violent protestors are being shot by militarized police while fighting the construction of the Dakota access pipeline through their land in Standing Rock #NoDAPL Just today a protester was shot by an officer in both kneecaps, these excessive forces are being used to protect the construction of a pipeline over the lives of thousands of people. 300 people have been injured at Standing Rock to date. How can we continue to celebrate the bond between two groups when that bond is nonexistent? We are rather celebrating the genocide and oppression of Native Americans, which continues to this day, when we gather for Thanksgiving.

I say, “No Thanks”.

There is no one to thank because nothing was exchanged, Natives shared their tools, medicines, maps and other methods of survival with pilgrims just before being murdered by them. White Americans are the original thieves, but when we allow the oppressor to write the history of an event we can see how a genocidal attack can be manipulated into a celebration that creates a false sense of thankfulness and unity. There is nothing to be thankful for on this day, but there are so many things to be shameful of as Americans who continue to ignore the history behind this ‘holiday’ and the struggle that Natives continue to face as a result of our ignorance.

I say, “No Thanks”

This Thanksgiving instead of celebrating another farce holiday (like Columbus Day) that effectively erases the history behind the genocide that occurred behind the ‘creation’ of this country we should focus on why we ignore the history behind our American traditions. Every Thanksgiving that we gather to give thanks for the things that we have, must also recognize the things that have been stolen from Native Americans. Although I know that my African ancestors are not responsible for the genocidal attack that occurred under the umbrella of Thanksgiving I do recognize that celebrating the holiday disregards that history. We are all responsible when we participate in the circulation of false narratives, even when we are unaware. Oppression will continue as long we as cover it up with traditions based on fables. It’s time to think critically about the holidays we recognize because we are re-writing history when we decide to ignore the past and tell a partial story. When we do this we are only protecting wickedness and as a result we hurting everyone. We are bound to repeat our mistakes.

Our country values monetary profits over everything, even over the lives of people of color. We can see this in how profits from constructing the $3.7 billion Dakota Access Pipeline are valued over the lives of Native Americans who depend on Lake Oahe as a main water source. Builders argue that the pipeline will be constructed ’safely’ but what’s the other option? Did British Petroleum (BP) purposely construct their pipeline ‘unsafe’ that caused it to burst in 2010, polluting freshwater and wildlife the Gulf of Mexico? It doesn’t matter how ‘safely’ it’s planned to be built, Native American communities don’t want a pipeline going through their water on their land. But safe and clean water isn’t a necessity for people of color in the United States, seeing how Flint has not had access to water for almost two years. Allowing builders to continue to do so without permission from those tribes further proves how America’s White Supremacist culture tramples over the voices of non-white residents for no reason other than to make more money.

Our society has a trend of manipulating history in order to make a profit, uplifting offensive and disgusting traditions that are rooted in the corporate exploitation of marginalized groups. If Americans are truly determined to stop profiting off of oppression, then we must re-think our holidays and traditions. This Thanksgiving while going around the table sharing your “What I’m most thankful for this year…” remind family members of the true history behind the holiday and talk about what we can do to recognize the continuous struggle that Native Americans continue to face in a America’s white supremacist culture.

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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