A Native American's perspective on Thanksgiving

DAVENPORT, Iowa. (KWQC) - While many of us celebrate this day of giving thanks, others also reflect on the history of the holiday. Some indigenous people like Jo Ironshield, the co-founder of sage sisters of solidarity, say they don't celebrate Thanksgiving and it's actually a very difficult day for her to go through.
To listen to a podcast and the in-depth conversation with Jo, click here.

While many of us celebrate this day of giving thanks, others also reflect on the history of the holiday. Some indigenous people like Jo Ironshield, the co-founder of sage sisters of solidarity, say they don't celebrate Thanksgiving and it's actually a very difficult day for her to go through.

"Thanksgiving is something that sounds good. But to me, it's based on lies. Slaughter, rape, genocide, that's what I feel it is. Thanksgiving day to me is a day of mourning for our people. Those are the days we get to remember our elders who were taken from us and that right there, I just don't understand how you can sit around a table and celebrate that day," said Jo Ironshield.

She went on to say she wasn't taught about her ancestor's history in school. "I think they pretty much romanticize the whole situation. I don't know if its because they don't know how to deal with explaining it to children, but growing up indigenous and growing up and finding out the truth behind it through my own people, my elders. That was upsetting. It really upset me, made me mad. I don't understand why our culture is not being taught. Why is our truth not being taught in schools? I don't understand why there are no history books really for kids at that age."

When Jo was young, she was asked to be an "indian" for her school play. She says this didn't sit well with her mother: "she got really upset. And she said, 'well what kind of Indian were you supposed to play?' And I said, 'they chose me to be a princess.' And she said, 'well we didn't have princesses. That didn't exist with our people. And I think you shouldn't do that.' She sat down for about the next hour and explained what really happened and it was very eye-opening and I appreciate that now being older."

So, Jo made sure her children and grandchildren knew what really happened from early on, "a lot of people thought that maybe it wasn't too good of an idea because they're too young. But they comprehend. They comprehend it very well and when you sit and you explain it to them on their terms and how they would understand it, they understand! And it makes them sad, but they now know. And I wouldn't want them to celebrate something and not know the truth behind it."

While she knows not everyone will stop celebrating thanksgiving, she wants us to at least recognize other perspectives on the day. "At least take the time out to really think about what happened on Thanksgiving day and at least acknowledge it and tell a little history about it or find out a little history," said Ironshield.

She mentioned she didn't see herself and her story represented in history books, so TV6's Montse Ricossa went to the Davenport public library and read eight children's books for reading levels from kindergarten to fifth grade to see what Ironshield meant. All eight books referenced the food involved in Thanksgiving, turkey in particular and the fact that you spend the day with your family. Half of them mentioned a parade like Macy's or football. Five of the eight books mentioned the tribe's name, the Wampanoags. Six of them listed the one specific Native American, Squanto, who seemed to be the one to show the English settlers how to farm. However, half of the books called the indigenous as "Indians" and one book even went on to say "peaceful pilgrims were looking for new land to live in, and were not mean people."

Thanksgiving was declared an American national holiday in 1863 by President Lincoln for the purpose of uniting the country. In 1994, November was declared National Native American Heritage Month.