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DUREGGER: Stop romanticizing Thanksgiving

It is not enough to simply celebrate Thanksgiving without first understanding its legitimate origins

<p>I spent a lot of time making sure everyone is seated in the perfect spot, so PLEASE pay attention.</p>

I spent a lot of time making sure everyone is seated in the perfect spot, so PLEASE pay attention.

William Shakespeare once said, “No legacy is so rich as truth.” Yet each year, Americans hide the truth of their legacy behind a perfect day of feasting, family and ignorant gratitude. There is a bit of uncertainty facing the history of Thanksgiving, as it is traditionally taught as a day in which Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the first harvest in harmonious unison. The narrative is set as a happy one — Pilgrims in their buckled shoes and collared outfits sat around the table with their Native American counterparts, merrily conversing and indulging in a warm-cooked meal. And then the Native Americans graciously handed over their land to their European friends, fading back into the void they existed in prior to 1621. 

There is little truth here. The ancestors of Wampanoag have occupied the island of Noepe — now known as Martha’s Vineyard — since its creation over 10,000 years ago. Of the more than 67 tribal communities across Southeastern Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island which once comprised the Wampanoag Nation, only six remain. This diminishment of culture, of life, began the minute settlers arrived. In the fall of 1620, the Mayflower arrived in Massachusetts carrying Pilgrims. It is traditionally taught that these folks were in search of religious asylum, but they actually found this 20 years before in Holland. Make no mistake — this trip to the New World was fueled by greed. That is one characteristic Americans have adopted from their European ancestors — their survival depends solely on the attainment of political power and wealth. 

While the infamous Thanksgiving feast did take place, it was intended to be solely a European celebration. In fact, the Wampanoag people’s first interaction with Pilgrims came when the colonists stole from the tribe. Even still, Ousamequin — their leader known as the Massasoit — befriended the settlers and formed an alliance with them. About 90 men arrived at the feast in response to reports of gunfire to protect their new allies from harm. It is from here that they stayed and kept the Pilgrims company for three days. This companionship did not last.

Only decades later, Plymouth men celebrated the same holiday by taking the dismembered head of Ousamequin’s son and making a public display of it. What once was a celebration in hesitant union with the Wampanoag people later reverted to savage opposition. Furthermore, it was only in 1841 that the occasion itself was coined “Thanksgiving” and in 1863 that it was proclaimed as a national holiday. The Lincoln administration did this not to recognize the country’s wrongful past, or to thank the Wampanoag people for their hospitality, but rather to assuage those affected by the Civil War and “heal the wounds of the nation.” 

In 1970, Plymouth residents planned an anniversary celebration of the first Thanksgiving in which a Wampanoag man was scheduled to speak. Though they revoked his role at the event, he intended to speak truthfully of his ancestral history. He said, “The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain.” European settlers were a menace to the culture and livelihood of Native Americans. They pushed them off their ancestral land, inflicted violence and even war upon them and transferred disease to them. They placed their own personal gain above human decency and the general welfare of mankind. 

It is long past time for the false, glorified narrative of Thanksgiving to be eradicated. The cultural education found in homes, schools and institutions has failed. Pilgrims arrived with a greedy conscience, searching out what could bring them the greatest benefit. And consequently, Native Americans paid the price. Before basting the turkey, turning on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or posting on social media just how grateful one really is, seek to understand what is really being celebrated. Step out of blissful ignorance and into the riches of truth. In order for Thanksgiving to be a time of gratitude, it must first be a time of recognition.  

Grace Duregger is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at