I’m not here to bash Thanksgiving traditions. I think they’re great, and something that we should continue. However, I think in the midst of these traditions, we have lost the true meaning of Thanksgiving: a celebration of the collaboration between two completely different cultures. It wasn’t just about being grateful for a plentiful harvest. It was a celebration of what happened when the Wampanoag tribe decided to graciously share their knowledge with the foreigners who landed in their country.
Honestly, I find it a little disturbing that we so unashamedly celebrate Thanksgiving as a celebration of white culture and consumerism, without ever acknowledging the thriving culture that first made the establishment of our nation possible. Why are we so afraid of naming our past? Yes, it’s embarrassing, and there’s no way we can go back and rewrite history. However, we can write a new future. One where we return to that place of unity, that place of celebrating diversity, that place of experiencing the abundance that comes from embracing humility and learning from the differences of others.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit Prince Edward Island, a province of Canada nestled in the North Atlantic off the coasts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. On this quiet little island, a cultural revolution is happening. Prince Edward Island has a very similar history to the States. The island was first inhabited by the Mi’kmaq people until the French colonized the island in 1720. Soon after a bloody conflict for power began between the French and the British, until England finally claimed the land in 1763. When a treaty was signed between the French and the British, the Mi’kmaq were not recognized in the treaty, although they had allied with the French during the conflict. Displaced from their land and forced to acculturate into the European way of life, attempts to hold onto their tradition were quickly snuffed out unless properly hidden.
Their history differs from ours in a very stark way: there is a cultural recognition of this mistake and Canadians are now actively working to give back to the Mi’kmaq the respect and honor that were stripped away from them. While on Prince Edward Island I attended two local theater productions. Before each one, the president of the local theater company gave the usual “silence your cell phones speech,” with one addition. He asked us to remember the Mi’kmaq people and their inhabitance of the land we stood on since “time immemorial.” How strange, I thought. This show has nothing to do with Mi’kmaq culture. But then I realized it had everything to do with it. This was their way of acknowledging that without the cultural contributions of the Mi’kmaq, Prince Edward Island would not be where it is today. And without their continued contributions, the cultural heritage of Prince Edward Island would not be as rich and diverse as it is.
So this holiday season, before we get caught up in the flurry of food and activity, let’s spare a few moments to stop thinking about ourselves, and instead acknowledge the countless native tribes that inhabited this country before our ancestors ever arrived. Let’s give thanks for those who are still taking risks and sharing their knowledge and skills in order to create culture that welcomes and celebrates diversity. The result can be astounding. Here’s what Michael Gonzalez, president of the Mosaic Multicultural Student Association says, “We need to leave differences aside and focus on working together to help others. Then once we get that work done, we can all sit together at the table and truly celebrate Thanksgiving by first giving thanks to our Father in heaven.”
Media by Di’Mond Salmond.