For most, Thanksgiving is a happy holiday. After all, aren’t you giving thanks for everything you appreciate, celebrating with family and getting time off?
It’s no surprise that the holiday is deeply ingrained in American culture, especially with Country Day’s own annual celebration and extended break. But let’s take a step back and look at its history.
In most schools, children learn a romanticized story of the “discovery” of America, complete with Columbus and the splendid feast shared by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. By now, hopefully all of us know that’s not what happened.
It’s not my place to recount Thanksgiving from a Native American’s point of view, but it certainly wasn’t a fairy-tale picnic. If you haven’t done your own research, you have no excuse. Google is free, people!
As Californians, we’ve already officially swapped Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day, which is great. Not celebrating a genocidal historical figure should have been done a long time ago.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is more important to non-indigenous Americans. There are so many traditions: turkey, pumpkin pie, football, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — the list goes on and on.
But by celebrating Thanksgiving, you are being a terrible person.
From a place of privilege, it’s easy to remain detached from the bad things happening in the world. And because of this detachment, we act as if Thanksgiving is solely a happy holiday and ignore its repercussions for one of the most important groups in American history.
The reason we can pretend is simple: out of sight, out of mind. This has been the policy in this country for a while, stemming from the origin of reservations, the Trail of Tears and, you guessed it, Thanksgiving.
So frankly, I could not care less if you like Thanksgiving. It’s time to stop being complicit and to take responsibility — and please don’t give me that nonsense about not actually being the one who needs to repent because it wasn’t you who killed Native Americans. Yes, it was technically our ancestors who did unspeakable things to all kinds of minorities, but using that to justify your ignorance is incredibly close-minded. The impacts of genocide and racial discrimination still snowball today, and white people are enforcing these standards.
Don’t tell me Thanksgiving is a humble holiday. But wait! Doesn’t giving thanks fit in with Country Day’s mission statement and our community?
Sure, our school tradition for Thanksgiving is cute. We all get together, bring side dishes and make an event out of it. But this isn’t a time when you can pick and choose one origin story and conveniently forget the other.
It is abhorrent to focus only on yourself and people who look like you. Native Americans are trying to recover from centuries of oppression by our ancestors and government.
If we absolutely cannot do without our high school Thanksgiving celebration, let’s take the day to actively learn about and honor Native Americans. We all can take time to learn about Native American history, find a book by a Native American author or look in the news for current issues.
These issues include Native Americans still not having control over sacred land yet fighting to protect our planet without recognition. We all needed to do our part in fighting the Dakota Access pipeline, and now we need to stand with Native Americans against the construction of a telescope on Mauna Kea, a sacred site.
We owe it to them not to celebrate their genocide. When I’m an adult, I’ll spend the day paying my respects to Native Americans with self-education, advocacy, donations and the promise to continue doing so throughout the year.
I urge everyone to make the same choice — the right choice.
—By Sarina Rye
Originally published in the Nov. 12 edition of the Octagon.