Indigenous history in the mainstream American educational system is, at best, revisionist and at worst, a dismissive attempt to cleanse the white American palate of the genocide propagated by our ancestors.
What most Americans understand as Thanksgiving is recorded as a harvest celebration in 1621 between the local Wampanoag people and the pilgrims. The festival was not repeated the next year, and despite what many people think, was not the result of Indigenous massacre, although that happened repeatedly later.
Thanksgiving has long been about familial binge eating rather than historical education; Indigenous People’s Day, often referred to under the pejorative misnomer, is less about understanding the history of First Peoples and more about commending the imperialism with which Columbus’ expedition was founded on.
With October came Indigenous People’s day, followed by Thanksgiving in November. While remembrance is imperative for full education, the type of memorials or reverence we have in America, mostly outside of San Francisco, is not only inadequate but disrespectful.
Around Indigenous People’s day, many students expressed sentiments about how days meant to be a form of minority celebration can be co-opted and mutated into masturbatory back patting and insincere family time.
To be clear, remembrance for minority communities is crucial to instituting a more equitable society. Appropriate context for this remembrance is also crucial.
The timeline of what we call “Thanksgiving” is not accurately portrayed in history texts. As kids in school, we are taught, often using heinous stereotypical images, that Europeans and Indigenous People of the Wampanoag tribe had a three-day gathering to celebrate a successful harvest. The title of “Thanksgiving” wasn’t ascribed to the event until two centuries later.
The misrepresentation of this as the first harvest festival is incorrect — Europeans and First Peoples had harvest celebrations for generations before this. These points are pedantic in comparison to the fact that, according to English written tradition and Wampanoag oral tradition, no invitation was extended to the First Peoples.
Squanto, according to most of our history texts, was a peaceful translator that helped teach Europeans how to cultivate. This narrative disturbingly glosses over the fact that Squanto learned English after being kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain by an English “explorer” Thomas Hunt.
As an anecdotal point, the terms “explorers” and “discovered” are severely misleading. “Explorer” conjures images of someone journeying in the name of science and not imperialism, and “discovered” implies that this land was unoccupied before the arrival of Europeans.
Criticism of the misleading previous title surrounding Indigenous People’s Day seems nitpicky, but it matters.
These critiques have been around for years, but they are just as relevant today as they were years ago.
Cassie Froning, a SF State communications major, echoed the support. “Indigenous People’s day is something that I think is incredibly important with where we stand in history currently,” Froning said. “We are observing a time where certain groups of people and what their pasts represent are beginning to fall between the cracks, and by celebrating this day we celebrate forward movement.”
Froning spoke from a personal perspective about how the title glorifies the wrong aspects of the story.
“Growing up on a reservation and learning about what life was for my ancestors has had a large impact on how I see the world and how I live my life,” Froning said. “I do not think that indigenous people hold any stronger value than others, but I will say that their way of life is whole-hearted.”
Using the title “Columbus Day” is not only intentionally misleading, but disrespectful and, above all else, sickeningly glorified.
America still has dozens of monuments dedicated to Confederate generals, most of which were erected during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights movement. It’s unsurprisingly sad how many responses to this criticism are founded in flawed nationalism. Underneath the hypocrisy, racism and sheer idiocy in that argument is a kernel of ignorance that has been cooked by the societal status quo.
The issue at hand is history, namely how Americans often seek to revise their history in order to assuage guilt.
This is a generality and clearly not all Americans feel this way or make these arguments, but it’s important to note that so many of these critiques of the holiday protests are based on inaccurate representations.
Both Indigenous People’s Day and Thanksgiving are formative events for our nation, and while each has their grave and deadly flaws they are inherently part of our national identity. This makes it all the more important that we represent these events as accurately as possible: an oppressive attempt at washing clean our bloody historical slate.
The problem, more generally than the misnomer of the holiday’s title, is what the false nomenclature represents.It is a representation of the imperialism our country was founded on and the revisionist history it continues to perpetuate.