Duncan and Zoe Debate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a complex holiday. Duncan Bradford and Zoe Toperosky debate the pros and cons of the holiday.


Thanksgiving: family, friends, pie, and turkey. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate what you’re thankful for, but not everyone looks at it this way. We sit down with Duncan Bradford and Zoe Toperosky to discuss the complexities of the holiday. 

Duncan: Thanksgiving should be celebrated because it’s a time to reconnect with family and friends. Thanksgiving is a meaningful, deeply entrenched tradition within our culture, and for good reason.

Zoe: We stop participating in the regular flow of our lives to celebrate a genocide and thousands of years of pain and torture. Even if it gives time for family and friends, it’s time spent celebrating the long-lasting impacts of colonization. 

Duncan: In 1863, when President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a national holiday, he created a time and space to show appreciation for values such as community and tolerance. Originally, Thanksgiving was intended to express gratitude for help provided by Indigenous people to the colonists who arrived in America hundreds of years ago, and this spirit is maintained in today’s rendition of the celebrations.

Zoe: While its modern purpose is perceived as a time of gratitude, it was not always this way. The first Thanksgiving in 1621 resulted in a genocide, and the Pilgrims staged a nice meal as a decoy to kill the Indigenous people that were on the land before them. After the Pilgrims were satisfied with the information and teachings the Indigenous people gave them, they killed them so they could take over the land and call America their home. 

Duncan: While the first participants of Thanksgiving may have been entrenched in violent and colonialist beliefs, their views aren’t represented in today’s meaning of the holiday. It’s possible to separate the people who invented Thanksgiving and their actions from the modern values associated with the holiday.

Zoe: The history of holidays, crucial pieces of history that include the raw truths of the horrific impacts of colonization must be acknowledged, or we will be doomed to repeat it. Although parts of our history can seem unpatriotic or too negative to educate citizens about, erasing history has proved dangerous, causing more harm than good. Attempting to separate the history of Thanksgiving from our more modern version of the holiday threatens erasure of Indigenous communities fighting for rights to this day. 

Duncan: In order to responsibly honor any holiday, history should be taken into account, but the past should not dictate the present. We should be able to acknowledge what occurred in the past, but remain cognizant of the fact that times change and holidays evolve beyond their original, and sometimes harmful, beginnings. 

Zoe: While we cannot deny that times change, the idea that we should forgive and forget history opens a door to ignorance. We must continue to honor the lives lost to colonization and genocide. We must continue to advocate for Indigenous communities who remain victims to our colonialist society that still hold ideals of White supremacy priority, erasing the truth from our textbooks and discourse surrounding the holiday. We must remember and acknowledge what we are celebrating on Thanksgiving. 

However you decide to spend your Thanksgiving this November 24, consider what you’re celebrating. Remember all the pain, genocide, and colonization that occurred so many years ago but continues to disadvantage, and result in the erasure of both the past and the present for Indigenous communities as you sit down with your family and friends for a nice meal.