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"The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Thanksgiving is a great time to share food with our loved ones and express gratitude for the blessings in our lives.  The origins of the holiday date back to 1621 when, as the conventional story goes, European Pilgrims established a colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts and shared a feast of their first harvest with the Wampanoag tribe.  Despite the unifying sentiments this story portrays, it fails to recount the uncomfortable truth about how European immigrants abused Native peoples and the natural environment.

The Truth About Thanksgiving

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe.

Artworks like “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe offer a euro-centric portrayal of the holiday that opts to ignore the exploitation of Native Americans. 

The National day of Mourning and Unthanksgiving Day are held each year on the fourth Thursday of November in Plymouth, Massachusetts and Alcatraz, San Francisco, respectively, to honor the truth about American history.

“The only true thing in the whole [Thanksgiving] mythology is that these pitiful European strangers would not have survived their first several years in ‘New England’ were it not for the aid of Wampanoag people,” wrote Moonanum James and Mahtowin Munro of the United American Indians of New England. “What Native people got in return for this help was genocide, theft of our lands, and never-ending repression.”

Extractive Industries Are Still Exploiting Indigenous Peoples and Lands

Unfortunately, disregard for native people and their land, as well as the environment in general, is still rampant and the biggest oppressors are fossil fuel companies and government that supports them.

“The reality is that extractive industries have been part of the experience of every single tribe in the U.S.,” said Powys Whyte, a professor at Michigan State University with a focus on climate policy and Indigenous peoples.

Today, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and people from around the world protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Energy Transfer plans to build on sacred lands and across critical waterways like the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Roger Moody, senior mining researcher, estimates that 50 to 80 percent of mineral expansion worldwide is planned on Indigenous lands. In the United States, “5% of oil and 10% of gas reserves, as well as 30% of low sulfur coal reserves and 40% of privately held uranium deposits are found on Native American reservations.”

Some of the largest extraction projects are held on Indigenous territories. For example, Peabody Coal’s Kayenta Mine, which extracted 7.9 millions tons of coal in 2013 alone, is operated on Navajo and Hopi Lands; dozens of corporations extract oil from Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribal lands in North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation; Alberta Tar sands, the largest industrial project on earth, is located on Métis and other First Nations lands.

Although extractive industries offer Native people work, more often than not they lead to environmental degradation, violence, rape, drug and alcohol use and other atrocities in affected communities.

Let’s Show Our Gratitude

The true history can sit heavier than your third serving of mashed potatoes but one thing that we should all be grateful for is freedom of speech, protest and the opportunity to support causes that we believe in. You can show your support for the Sioux people and other Indigenous tribes by sharing articles like this one, protesting, volunteering, calling local representatives or donating to causes you believe in.

On this day, let us honor Native ancestors who cared for the bountiful land we call America by speaking the truth, sharing our resources and knowledge with others in need regardless of what they look like or where they came from and making decisions about how we treat our mother earth with the intention of nourishing her for our great grand children’s grand children.

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