573 Ways to Say Thanks: Problems With “Native-Inspiration”

“Every six seconds a white woman on Youtube does a native inspired makeup look, when it has nothing to do with native culture,” JJ Smith declares.

Even though statistically this may be inaccurate, the idea stays the same. Thanksgiving at its core, represents America, a holiday built around hunting and feasting as a family. The holiday exemplifies the values of “unity” and “fairness,” where the Pilgrims and Natives played family. Yet, every year this holiday is used as an excuse to wear “native” costumes and clothing that are not native at all, or to forget the mistreatment that the Natives received at the hands of the colonizers. 

By forgetting what we did to the Native Americans, we can enjoy a level of ignorance surrounding Thanksgiving and what it truly means. However, this only negates the years of abuse and discrimination the Native Americans have recieved.

Thanksgiving as a feast does not pose a significant issue, it’s the stylized and often stereotypical images of natives that illustrate a problem. Most Americans, when they think of natives or Indians as they are often considered, think of a red-skinned person with a crowning feather headdress riding astride a horse while wearing artful war paint, like the Redskins’ (the American football team’s) logo. However, the Wampanoag, the natives present at the first Thanksgiving, wore nothing of the sort and often wore deerskin and winter furs.

We often see this story as a time when the natives and pilgrims come together and help each other, but that story makes it seem as though the pilgrims weren’t helpless. The natives helped far more than they are usually given credit for and as a result are seen as less because of it. Without the Wampanoag, those pilgrims at Plymouth would have not been able to survive and would have likely died out through the hard northeastern winters they were not accustomed to.

This is all to say that as a community we can work harder to help make sure that the costumes and makeup that we don for Thanksgiving might just illustrate something of the 573 federally recognized tribes in the US. There has already been major steps forward with Hays county making Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a recognition of the people that suffered the most at the hands of colonialists.

 We must not forget that what we wear and how we act about Indigenious Peoples have deep effects that may help perpetuate ideals that disregard the rich cultures that are present. So the next time you apply thick lines of Apache war paint to represent Wampanoag natives, think of how they are quite different and how your misrepresenting an entire reason why we have Thanksgiving in the first place.

By Ethan Everman, Staff Writer

Featured photo by Andrew James on Unsplash

*photo is not of the Wampanoag Native Americans.

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