Thanks but no thanks: the Native American perspective on Thanksgiving

navajoBy Kiara Torres

Every year Americans spend Thanksgiving with their family to eat and give thanks for their blessings. In American schools, students learn how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims survive and showed gratitude for the good harvest and celebrate with a three day feast. However, we often forget the suffering Native Americans faced during this national holiday and neglect their feelings on political or social issues.

“I always raised questions about the holiday because of my traditional way of life. In school, the readings teachers gave did not exactly go hand in hand with the real stories so I would feel offended,” Navajo member Janelle Destinee Benavidez said.

In American history, there is undoubtably a skewed portrayal of the relationship between white Americans and Native Americans. Consequently, the majority of the American population fails to understand holidays filled with sorrow like Thanksgiving. They were taught the glorified American version of history, thus making people unable to empathize with Native Americans.

Similarly, a common misconception is that Native Americans are almost non-existent or “extinct,” as if they are a voiceless group. In reality, there are over five million Native Americans living in the United States, which accounts for two percent of the population, according to the US Census Bureau.

In like manner, younger generations find trouble balancing modern American culture with their tribal traditions. Many use traditional values like spirituality, mutualism, and patience to confront hardships and to voice their opinion in a way that reflects their culture. However, they often find that their opinions may not be valuable.

Native American perspectives are very different from those of non-Native students. Their traditions are rooted in the relationship between humans, animals, and nature as a whole. In contrast, Americans are more superficial and materialistic, which causes a more secluded perspective on the world.

Unlike their younger counterparts, many the older generation do not understand opposing views. Most find it difficult to sympathize with those who support practices  that go against the well-being of their tribes. As a result, many Natives experience difficulty assimilating to American culture.

“I use Native American teachings to balance out the western society way of life. I was raised on the Navajo reservation and my family always felt that Thanksgiving is not celebrated by any natives due to how they were treated,” Benavidez said.

A problem that needs to be addressed is the treatment of Native Americans by the American government. Authorities invade ancestral land in order to build highways or malls in order to advance western society. As a result, people who do live on reservations are often ill supplied due to the lack of resources.

Although Natives disagree with this national holiday, many realize there is no control over what others celebrate. This Thanksgiving you could inform your loved ones the dark truth behind the holiday and how Native Americans were treated in order to bring to light the suffering their people continue to face. By recognizing the American government, You can help diminish problems and Native American communities for the future.

To learn more about Native American culture and heritage, visit the 33rd Annual Powwow at California State University, Northridge on Saturday, November 26, 2016.

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