Anti-Thanksgiving event emphasizes popular holiday's roots

American Indian Student Union receives hateful messages but maintains potluck's focus was positive

President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Though it has since evolved to mean different things to different people, the first celebration supposedly went something like this: “In the year 1621, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought 90 of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food,” according to Linus van Pelt in “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.”

But the University chapter of the American Indian Student Union says popular culture such as Linus’ description of the first Thanksgiving perpetuates myths about the holiday. The organization’s members convened an “Anti-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving” potluck last Monday in Minor Hall to raise awareness about the true origins of Thanksgiving.

“Natives had been celebrating thanksgiving for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before the European colonists came,” said fourth-year College student Katelyn Krause, president of the University chapter of the American Indian Student Union.

Students gathered to discuss the ways Native Americans helped European colonists establish agriculture, Krause said.

“Many times the European colonists… arrived without any sort of agricultural knowledge…,” Krause said. “In many ways it was the native tribes that they encountered that enabled them to… survive the first winters and to be able to have food in the first place.”

The Anti-Thanksgiving organizers did not intend the gathering to be negative, Krause said. “We just wanted to celebrate and respect our native ancestors and the huge help that they were in [the success of] colonies,” she added.

Since the potluck, Krause has received hateful messages accusing her of being “anti-American” and the organization of being a “Feminazi,” as AISU’s board at the University is composed entirely of females.

Krause said she does not find Thanksgiving or the way in which modern Americans celebrate it to be offensive. What does offend organizations such as AISU is how elementary education misrepresents the native Americans’ roles in the first Thanksgiving, she said.

Krause said she hoped future celebrations would bring more of “an appreciation for the tribes and how much they actually did to help these European colonists even be able to have a first thanksgiving.”

Though groups such as AISU contend that Thanksgiving is tangled with historical misconceptions, the holiday remains a cherished American tradition, uniting family and friends across counties, states, and in some cases, oceans.

The University’s Lorna Sundberg International Center each year organizes a Thanksgiving Meal Match to place international students with local families during the holiday.

“This year, we matched 29 internationals and their families with 19 hosts who are [U.Va.] faculty/staff and Charlottesville community members,” Meal Match program coordinator Quynh Nguyen said in an email. “Past participants generally said it was a great experience for both groups and local hosts really enjoyed sharing Thanksgiving with internationals.”

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