Reflecting on the American Past and Moving Forward

This past Thanksgiving homes across the country were filled with an assortment of food, laughter, flashing bulbs, embarrassing moments, and joyous announcements. Thanksgiving, as many recognize it, is a day to simply celebrate and give thanks. A uniquely American tradition stemming from early European settler relations with Native Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a tradition with a rich history for the country and for its citizens. While many Americans celebrate this day with joy and laughter, others take a different view of the occasion. In an article on USA Today, “On Thanksgiving Native American Students Reflect,” it highlights the difference many Native American college students feel for Thanksgiving. Some of the students interviewed feel a slight offense that the rich culture and history of their people are ignored on most days except Thanksgiving. The Native Americans have long sought recognition in a country that has, for the most part, overlooked not only their presence in history taught at school but also the injustices done to them.

Among the students interviewed is Carrie Wright, a Mercer County Community College student in New Jersey. She expressed deep resentment towards Thanksgiving. To her, the day only reminds her of the genocide of her people. Wright said, “I just think it’s insulting to native people … it boils my blood because Natives were treated like garbage and that’s never really out there for people to understand.”

Carrie Billy, the President of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), contributed some reflection on the words of the students interviewed. She was quoted saying, “the issue of historical trauma … really affects the self-esteem of our students. That is a challenge.” AIEHC works to support the efforts of quality education for Native Americans in the tribal colleges and universities. In addition, the consortium works to assist on and develop legislative support on higher education for Native Americans.

As the country celebrated a day of giving thanks, many– including media outlets– were unaware that the month of November was also Native American Heritage month. A month-long celebration and recognition of the “first Americans” culture and history, not commonly or widely observed. Terra Trevor, a Huffington Post blogger suggests in her impassioned Thanksgiving blog, “Happy Thanksgiving: An American Indian Perspective”, that Native Americans have become myths in the American society. She also notes the consumerist culture that is heightened on the day of or the days following Thanksgiving, further diminishes the history and meaning of the day. To Trevor, the Native American college students, and the rest of their community Thanksgiving is not about the exclusive shopping deals or the Turkey, it is a day to honor their ancestors, remember the history, and as well give thanks.

As our initiative works to foster education in democracy, we’re taking this time to highlight the “first Americans” who continue to live through marginalization. Our commitment to democracy details a civic education o to voting to “Bridging Cultures to Form a Nation”. It’s imperative to the initiative to look at democracy at every angle, especially at an often unnoticed one. How can the Native American population feel more integrated in the country of which also proudly brings democracy across the world? The place of the Native American culture and heritage belongs in the center of the American discourse. To what extent can democratic practice bring about change in the way history is viewed?

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