Thanksgiving alternative fueled by historical context: Unthanksgiving

Noelle Henry

The National Day of Mourning, or Unthanksgiving, is a trend gaining increasing recognition throughout America, with places such as San Francisco taking notice of the active protest against November’s biggest holiday. UT’s American Studies department celebrated Unthanksgiving on Monday, Nov. 12, and although there was still a feast, the event served as recognition of the wrongdoings done to Native Americans in the past.

Bradley Dixon is a postdoctoral fellow within the history department of the College of Liberal Arts. Dixon, who studied Native American history in the South, said the first National Day of Mourning began in 1970 in Massachusetts after there was much more activism from indigenous people. Frank B. James, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, held the protest in Plymouth on the day of Thanksgiving, and he wrote a speech for the event.

“His speech was plain talk about the Wampanoags and other native people’s view that this was not a happy day,” Dixon said. “That led to a history of dispossession and loss worth mourning about and thinking about.”

UT graduate student Adrienne Sockwell studies 19th century Native American history and said the protest has continued because Native Americans still haven’t received governmental acknowledgment on many issues that were addressed in the speech. Sockwell said people are starting to galvanize around these issues and she thinks the movement is growing.

“These are everyday people who still feel like, whether or not they get redress, they want to mark this day as something other than the feast,” Sockwell said.

Sockwell said one of the main issues which still has yet to be addressed is the poor conditions of reservations and the dispossession of land. She said these issues have begun to fester and be acknowledged, which has allowed the National Day of Mourning to survive and continue on for
so long.

UT graduate student Maria Hammack who has lived in North Carolina for some time, said that even there they had a National Day of Mourning at the courthouse with a minute of silence and a few speakers.

“The speeches weren’t necessarily about Native Americans,” Hammack said. “But it was to think about the state of the day and how to unite and face
different problems.”

Dixon said those who want to get involved should begin by brushing up on the facts and looking at the real origin of Thanksgiving as a holiday and by looking at Native American news outlets. He said the holiday shouldn’t be ignored or uncelebrated.

“What it’s about, at least at the minimum, is to give some of your time on the fourth Thursday of November to thinking about Native peoples,” Dixon said.

Sockwell said it’s not about thinking about the native peoples as a conquered people, but as people who were integral to the way in which the settlers survived.

“If there’s some thanks to be given, one might think about giving thanks to that population of people who were here,” Sockwell said. “(This population) made sure that the people who came on the Mayflower made it.”