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Thanksgrieving: Honoring the Painful Past of Thanksgiving for Indigenous Peoples

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As Thanksgiving approaches, families across the United States gather to share a bountiful meal and express gratitude for their blessings.

However, for Indigenous peoples, this holiday carries a much different meaning—one of sorrow and reflection.

Thanksgrieving is a term recently applied to the historical mistreatment of Indigenous communities by European colonizers.

Here we’ll take a look at the origin of Thanksgrieving, which up until the last 5 to 10 years referred to lonliness at Thanksgiving or mourning loss of a family member. Thanksgrieving has recently been reapplied to the remembrance and honor of the injustices forced upon Indigenous peoples.

1. The Genesis of Thanksgrieving

Thanksgrieving, a term blending “Thanksgiving” and “grieving,” encapsulates the somber emotions that Indigenous communities experience during this holiday season.

It originates from the dark history of colonization when European settlers arrived in America, setting in motion a series of events that forever changed the lives of Indigenous peoples.

2. A Bleak History of European Colonization

The arrival of European colonizers in the early 17th century marked the beginning of a painful and tragic chapter for Indigenous communities.

The colonizers’ pursuit of land and resources brought conflict, violence, and devastation to Native American populations.

Diseases introduced by the Europeans decimated Indigenous populations, leading to the loss of countless lives and a significant erosion of cultural heritage.

3. Consequences of Colonization

European colonization had far-reaching consequences for Indigenous peoples. Forced removals from their ancestral lands resulted in the loss of their connection to the earth and a rupture of their spiritual ties.

The imposition of foreign customs and values undermined traditional ways of life, eroding the rich cultural tapestry of Indigenous communities.

4. Thanksgiving: A Complicated Narrative

The popular narrative of the first Thanksgiving often paints a picture of harmony and camaraderie between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

However, this portrayal overlooks the deep-rooted injustices and pain endured by Indigenous peoples at the hands of European settlers.

The feast shared between the Pilgrims and Native Americans was not a symbol of unity but rather a brief respite from the ongoing colonization and oppression.

5. Thanksgrieving: A Time of Remembrance

For Indigenous peoples, Thanksgiving is not a time for celebration but a period of Thanksgrieving—a time to honor the resilience of their ancestors and remember the countless lives lost and communities disrupted.

It is an opportunity for all Americans to confront the uncomfortable truths of history and reflect on the ongoing impacts of colonization on Indigenous communities today.

6. Acknowledging the Past and Paving the Way for Healing

Recognizing Thanksgrieving and acknowledging the painful history of Thanksgiving is essential for healing and reconciliation.

By understanding the injustices that Indigenous peoples faced, we can work towards fostering empathy and understanding, and promoting a more inclusive and just society.


As we approach Thanksgiving, let us not forget the true history behind this holiday. Thanksgrieving calls us to reflect on the mistreatment and suffering endured by Indigenous peoples due to European colonization.

It is a time to honor the resilience of Indigenous communities and stand in solidarity with them. By acknowledging the past and working towards reconciliation, we can pave the way for a more equitable and compassionate future for all.

Let us transform Thanksgiving into a time of genuine gratitude, remembrance, and healing.

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