Social stigma surrounds Native American portrayals

As the four-day weekend approaches, students are finding more to look forward to: football games, warm pumpkin pie, buttery mashed potatoes and of course, the highly anticipated annual turkey dinner. Thanksgiving has been a long-standing American tradition, so let’s take a moment to think about how it all began:
It’s Plymouth in the early 1600’s, and the Pilgrims welcome their fellow Wampanoag Indians to a feast. Together, they gather around an oversized turkey, hold hands and perform some kind of cheesy musical number -wait, that’s not what happened? To be fair, that perception of Thanksgiving has mostly faded. Mostly.
I say mostly because the core, of this “American tradition,” arguably its whole existence centers around very primitive assumptions about race and religion. Even though the meaning of Thanksgiving has since shifted for most of the American population, its effects are still lasting.
The most prominent example is the recent controversy over the name of the Washington DC based football team, the “Redskins.” The controversy over the team name recently reared its ugly head in May after ten members of congress urged the team to change their name in response to an open letter by Dan Snyder, team owner.
Snyder’s letter adamantly supports keeping the team name, and at first glance comes off as shallow: a maudlin recollection of his childhood experiences with the team, followed by weak justifications for its use of racial slang. He closes his letter stating that the 81 year history of the team name cannot be ignored (in face of hundreds of years of Native American prejudice?). Native Americans may be a minority, but the that doesn’t undermine the damage done to the small few, particularly Native American youth. In an article from Indian Country Media Network, Wilson Pipestem, a Native American and father of two, says that his two children came home from school and asked: “Dad, are they making fun of us?”
With the “Redskins” controversy still fresh on people’s minds, should we forgo the turkey and mash when the last Thursday of November rolls around this year, and possibly forever? That won’t be necessary. You can do your part by not promoting harmful racial stereotypes, and not contributing to the appropriation of hundreds of years of Native American history. It’s up to our generation to change the meaning of Thanksgiving, to refute the oversimplified and sugar-coated image of pilgrims and indians joining hands, to establish a new, alternative definition of Thanksgiving. One without a historically inaccurate backstory, and one that revolves around what it should have always revolved around: giving thanks.