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In-depth: Why Thanksgiving is National Day of Mourning for some groups of people

Posted at 6:26 PM, Nov 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-25 18:26:20-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As part of our ongoing series “Two Americas,” we are bringing you new perspectives, showing you the America you know and the America you might not know.

As many people celebrate Thanksgiving today, there are people who are mourning. ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill sat down with a group of Native Americans in the Tampa Bay area to have a candid conversation about what Thanksgiving Day means to them.

It’s a tale of two Americas and two perspectives. While many people spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones and reflect on what they are thankful for, for other groups of people, it is a day filled with grief.

“If the truth is not told about what the real Thanksgiving was, it’s like believing in the tooth fairy,” said Nadine Wari Zacharie of the Mohawk nation.

Frank Runs Before Them of the Hunkpapa Lakota nation said, “How do we gain this trust from the system that has basically conquered our people.”

The story of the first Thanksgiving is usually told as the Pilgrims and Native Americans coming together to enjoy a meal, but today, for many Native Americans, this is viewed as the beginning of colonization, cultural genocide and being forced to convert to a religion that isn’t theirs.

“You’re not a good Catholic. I said ‘I don’t want to be a Catholic. When did I ever say I wanted to be a Catholic,’” said Melvin Zacharie of the Mohawk nation.

To many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is National Day of Mourning. It started back in 1970 to spread awareness about the Native American struggle and to provide another perspective on the history we are all taught.

“It’s nice to celebrate, but without having the history, this is no celebration,” said Nadine.

Alicia Norris is mixed with Onondaga and Oneida and she said indigenous history is rarely told from their perspective.

“Really look and say, 'what is the true history? What is the indigenous perspective?' Read books by indigenous authors,” said Norris.

Today, many indigenous people are still fighting for better health care, education and environmental protections because they view the land as sacred.

“What I am thankful for on this day of Thanksgiving is what my grandmother did so that I can be here today. She not only thought about my lineage, but she thought about the child's lineage that she saved that day on December 15, 1890,” said Frank Runs Before Them. He said his grandmother was shot two times while saving a baby during the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.

Melvin said though he does not celebrate Thanksgiving Day — giving is built into his indigenous culture — and they have always done it.

“I remember when my great grandmother, we’d be sitting down having a meal and somebody walking on the road going by. She’d go out and bring them in and make sure they ate before they passed her house.”

Nadine said though today will not be a celebratory day, they will gather on Sunday to celebrate each other, their ancestors and survival.

“We are going to have a meal at my house. Everybody is welcomed and we will celebrate the fact that we here, we love each other and we won’t give up.”