Native Americans want to change how Thanksgiving is taught

Multicultural Issues

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thanksgiving for a lot of people means being with family, giving thanks and lots of food. But it’s a tradition many Native Americans find problematic. 

Native American representatives in Indiana say the holidays’s origins are steeped in myth.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863. President Abraham Lincoln called for both sides in the Civil War to break and head off to give thanks and be with their families.

“I believe that should be a good enough reason to base this tradition on,” said Carolina Castoreno-Santana, executive director of the American Indian Center of Indiana.

But over the years, the idea of Thanksgiving beginning during colonial times when Pilgrims and Native Americans sat down for a great meal is the story often told. 

“What we’re still perpetuating in the school system is this notion that there was a harmonious interracial gathering,” Castoreno-Santana said. “This all stems from and that simply never happened.” 

She’s calling for changes to be made in how Thanksgiving is taught in schools.

The Indiana Department of Education provided this statement about the teaching of Thanksgiving in schools: 

“While Indiana does have standards to which curriculum must be taught, how that curriculum is taught is up to individual  districts. Regarding holidays, local schools have the authority over how they are presented to their students. Around Thanksgiving, some teach the traditional pilgrim story, and others do not.”

“What most of us do, we recognize it as day of mourning,” said Castoreno-Santana.

History said the gathering instead marked the eradication of the Wampanoag tribe in Boston. And eventually the widespread native removal from their lands, including Indiana.

“It’s literally giving thanks to their creator for enacting genocide, so that’s why we want to get away from that,” she said.

According to Castoreno-Santana, natives have celebrated the harvest at this time of year for centuries. That’s why so many choose to do that rather than recognize Thanksgiving. The American Indiana Center will pack and deliver nearly 40 harvest boxes to native families across the state.

“Even within the indigenous community, opinions on this vary. There are some who are very staunchly against celebrating it at all. There are some it has just become part of what they do already.”

Castoreno-Santana said she’s not discouraging people to celebrate the holiday but instead to know the truth behind it.

“We have to start eliminating these myths that are really putting us at a disadvantage,” she said. “And it makes people think that natives are a thing of the past. And we are very much contemporary people.” 

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