Talk gives perspective on Thanksgiving’s history

By JAMES SCHARF | November 15, 2018

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) hosted its annual Forgiving Thanksgiving function on Monday. This year’s gathering focused on discussing Thanksgiving in a way that properly acknowledges the entire history of the holiday, including Indigenous perspectives.

Organizers handed out pamphlets to educate attendees about Indigenous cultures, innovations and history. 

The President of Indigenous Students at Hopkins, Ty Andrews, explained that she wanted to both correct the traditional narrative of Thanksgiving and also give more meaning to the national holiday.

“The goal this year was to set the record about Thanksgiving straight,” Andrews said. “Just to put the idea in people’s minds that Thanksgiving wasn’t just about food.”

Andrews began the event by clarifying that the student group is not seeking to condemn Thanksgiving in any way. Instead, the group hopes that students will be more mindful of possible historical inaccuracies.

Joel Espinoza, the vice president of Indigenous Students at Hopkins, echoed Andrews’ sentiment. He thinks that Thanksgiving has both positive and negative aspects.

“There is a dark side to this holiday, but this isn’t an attack on the holiday itself,” Espinoza said.

Andrews and Espinoza began the event with an introduction about how they understand Thanksgiving. Espinoza said that historians have offered several alternative narratives that clash with the idea that the holiday celebrates a friendly meal between Native Americans and the Pilgrims.

“The main point is that there are conflicting ideas,” Espinoza said.

He claims that some historians completely reject the narrative about a traditional meal of celebration. Espinoza discussed some of these alternative theories.

“Some say that there was actually a massacre that occurred and that there was no actual friendly meal,” Espinoza said. “Some say that there was an unofficial meal and that the Wampanoag came over and crashed a meal with them.”

Andrews believes that not many Americans are aware of the ambiguous origins of Thanksgiving.

“Conversations like these are necessary,” Andrews said. “History is very much whitewashed and needs to be fixed.”

Espinoza thinks that Americans should discuss Thanksgiving to properly integrate Native American views into the holiday. He wanted attendees to be aware that colonizing peoples exercised more control over the narrative than Indigenous groups.

Junior Willa Grinsfelder, an attendee, left the event feeling that those who celebrate the holiday need to take into account more than traditional views. She also said that families should discuss issues surrounding Thanksgiving more often.

“The way the conversations are had around Thanksgiving needs to be more inclusive and acknowledge that there’s history beyond giving thanks,” Grinsfelder said.

Junior Seena Vafaee said that he walked away with more awareness of controversies with the traditional narrative. He agrees that it is necessary to keep other peoples’ views in mind.

“The message that I walked away with is that with history in general, especially history surrounding Thanksgiving, it is hard to agree upon what facts there are and what actually happened,” Vafaee said. “So, it’s important to be aware of different peoples’ stories and perspectives.”

Andrews and Espinoza dedicated time to explain the history of the Pilgrims’ journey to the U.S.

“Keep in mind that it’s 1621 and you have the Pilgrims coming over,” Espinoza said. “People died on the way to going to a land that they didn’t know what was ahead of them. Keep in mind that they’re coming, it’s wintertime now.”

Espinoza said that Native Americans helped teach the settlers how to cultivate land that differed significantly from the land in Europe, which they were used to. According to Espinoza, this is the version of history that students learn in grade school.

He wants people to recognize, however, that communications would have been possible only because Squanto, a Native American translator, was kidnapped and taken to Europe where he learned English.

Andrews added that Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday to bring together a divided nation after the Civil War.

“Around the time of the Civil War, tensions were high and families were being split apart constantly, so he decided that he was going to make a holiday that would help these families reunite and come together despite their political backgrounds or what side of the war they fought on,” Andrews said.

Espinoza said that some of the aspects of Thanksgiving relate to how American Indigenous cultures connect to the environment and the people around them.

“There’s nothing wrong with joining with people,” Espinoza said. “Part of Native American culture in general is giving thanks and being connected to the land and the resources around you.”

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