By: Lalitha Pamidigantam, YWCA Columbus Policy Analyst
Belen de Leon, YWCA Columbus Program Coordinator
YWCA Columbus recognizes that the history of Thanksgiving has historically been revised to erase Indigenous voices and experiences. As an antiracist agency that stands on the stolen land of the Kaskaskia people, Shawnadasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee), Myaamia, and the Hopewell, we are aware that anti-Indigenous racism is embedded in systematic oppression and is a part of the fabric of the settler colonial state.
While the greater culture of gratitude is one with which we identify, today, we take some time to acknowledge the trauma caused by the myth of Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving is most commonly celebrated as two different groups of people coming peacefully together to celebrate white colonials surviving in the “New World,” it actually has roots in European Christian traditions. It was celebrated by colonialists in New England with prayer and fasting, before the “first American Thanksgiving” took place in October 1621. While it is true that many Wampanoag attended a harvest dinner with the New England Pilgrims (though, the intentions of the feast are contested), it is important to note that not all Indigenous people are the same, and treating Indigenous people in relationship to this holiday as a monolith is harmful and anti-Indigenous sentiment. Moreover, the harmful imagery and mocking nature of historic and stereotypical American Thanksgiving celebrations harm Indigenous people, who make up almost 2% of the American population today, for whom Thanksgiving symbolizes the violent conquest of their ancestral home.
Indigenous history predates European colonialism, having had existed for at least 12,000 years. With rich cultures, traditions, languages, and more, it is estimated that 112 million Indigenous people lived in this land before European contact. Since European settler colonialism, Indigenous people have experienced violent oppression at the hands of white supremacy. Settler colonialism is a continuous process by which Indigenous people are still oppressed. Still, today, Indigenous people continue to pave the way for climate and water protection, equitable treatment within the system, education, housing, and more. Today and every day, YWCA Columbus honors Indigenous voices, leadership, guidance, and resistance in dismantling anti-Indigenous racism in our systems as we work to dismantle all systems of oppression.
It is important to note that Indigenous people are still here today. As we fight to learn, protect, and sharpen our true history, we must connect our efforts to the existing Indigenous people. To engage with Indigenous groups, check out this toolkit on how to be an Indigenous ally: https://clarinet-bison-s97a.squarespace.com/indigenous-ally-toolkit