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Exploring the political correctness of Thanksgiving

In late July 2016, plans to build an oil pipeline in North Dakota were met with vehement opposition, sparking a three-month protest which stemmed from deep concerns raised by some of the state’s Native American tribal nations and environmental activists.

Standing Rock Sioux tribe is caught in an ongoing legal battle opposing the project, stating that such a pipeline would be a threat to their reservations’ main water supply and stretch across a part of land linked to cultural and ancestral ties.

This incident quickly became one of the biggest Native American civil rights cases in the past couple of decades and created the conditions for the largest gathering of tribes in 100 years.

Aside from attracting the national media’s attention and UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ support, the protest revealed one crucial thing: disregard for the voice and cultural heritage of the Native American people is far from being a “thing of the past.”

Curious to find out exactly how many people here at Principia know about this and other related issues, I decided to interview a couple of students. “The most recent conflict that I know of has to do with the possibility of the Cahokia Mounds being destroyed and replaced with a shopping center,” said concerned post-graduate teaching intern Sage Stafford. She said, “I know that Heart Lands is trying to do a feasibility study of the Mounds and working with the National Park Service (NPS) to have the Mounds recognized as a National Park or National Monument.”

“Another issue is labeling the indigenous people “The First Nation.” There is a lot of backlash because of this.  It is admitting responsibility for the genocide and takeover of the land that was first theirs,” said senior Kalila Kalani when talking about the controversial nomenclature adopted by the federal government for identifying Native American peoples.

Political correctness is a sensitive issue when talking about Native Americans, especially since many aspects of their culture have been misappropriated and distorted by American society. Amongst numerous issues which fall under scrutiny, the most controversial is without a doubt the celebration of Thanksgiving.  

It has been a week since the end of this festive celebration, yet the question remains all year-round: what does Thanksgiving truly represent in the eyes of the Natives? To most it is simply seen as one of the many holidays on the calendar – an integral part of western culture and a moment to give thanks for the good fortune that the first pilgrims experienced so many centuries ago. To this day, no one – not even historians – knows whether the description of events which took place back then was accurate or not. Today American society is split down the middle: some gather with families and friends to celebrate the occasion, while others fast in observance of what they view as a day of “national mourning.”

Recently much has been done to educate people about cultural sensitivity, so much so that the controversy has led to a debate about the Washington D.C. football team’s derogatory name.

In a country as diverse as the United States there are bound to be cultural clashes, yet that is no reason for people to look down upon or disrespect the heritage and traditions of others. More should be done to educate generations to come on how to respect cultural differences. It is those differences that, when woven together, create the wonderfully multi-colored tapestry that is modern society.