This Thanksgiving, Make a Conscious Decision to Self-Educate and Support Indigenous Experiences

Anna Connelly

Although this years modifications may impede traditional celebrations for the Thanksgiving holiday, it holds great potential for new holiday practices in a year as unconventional as 2020.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous health officials are asking families around the world to modify much-needed reconnections for the sake of public health. For many this year, Thanksgiving celebrations are ought to seat fewer guests, exchange fewer hugs, and require creative uses of technology to connect with loved ones.
Although these necessary modifications impede traditional celebrations for the Thanksgiving holiday, a year as unconventional as 2020 is a perfect opportunity to experiment with new holiday practices. Thanksgiving, in particular, holds great potential to challenge our perceptions of whitewashed history and expand the ways in which we experience gratitude for the lives we live today.
In school, many Americans learn that the original Thanksgiving was a pleasant day filled with an exchange of cuisines and the establishment of cross-cultural friendships. Although this narrative allows for a charming Thanksgiving family celebration, it is not historically accurate.
“In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, to feast after a recent land deal. Massasoit came with ninety of his men. That meal is why we still eat a meal together in November. Celebrate it as a nation. But that one wasn’t a thanksgiving meal. It was a land-deal meal. Two years later, there was another, similar meal meant to symbolize eternal friendship. Two hundred Indians dropped dead that night from an unknown poison. By the time Massasoit’s son Metacomet became chief, there were no Indian-Pilgrim meals being eaten together.” – Tommy Orange, Pulitzer Prize finalist and member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, in his novel “There There.”
“The Thanksgiving myth doesn’t address the deterioration of this relationship culminating in one of the most horrific colonial Indian wars on record, King Philip’s War, and also doesn’t address Wampanoag survival and adaptation over the centuries, which is why they’re still here, despite the odds.” – Dr. David Silverman, George Washington University professor specializing in Native American, Colonial American, and American racial history; Smithsonian Magazine.
When we encourage ourselves to critically analyze the stories we hear, and recognize the biases in cultural narratives, we have the ability to open a new dialogue. We can better understand the ways in which we are privileged—and better work to ensure that all communities have access to the same advantages.
This Thanksgiving, take a moment to explore the true origins of the holiday and encourage your family to do the same to make your celebration more meaningful. For additional ideas to make your Thanksgiving more culturally aware, check out these resources below:

  • Indigenous Land Acknowledgement: Take a moment to recognize that your life is built on stolen land. It is a simple way to validate the complex, overlooked history that actively devastated the wellbeing of the Indigenous inhabitants. Check out the Native Governance Center for tips, and Native Land to identify which tribal lands you reside on.
  • Support Indigenous-Owned Businesses for Holiday Shopping: In the spirit of shopping local, consider purchasing holiday gifts from Indigenous-owned businesses. Ideas for Native-owned shops can be found on the American Indian Business Alliance, Etsy, Rakuten, and independent blogs.
  • Donate to Indigenous COVID-19 Relief Funds: In August, the CDC found that “in 23 states with adequate race/ethnicity data, the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 among AI/AN persons was 3.5 times that [of] non-Hispanic white persons.” Consider donating to First Nation’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, The NDN Collective’s COVID-19 Response Project, First Nations Community Healthsource to assist Indigenous-led COVID-19 relief efforts.

Given the passionate calls for increased social, racial, and cultural justice experienced this year, dedicating a few moments to confront the sugarcoated Thanksgiving myth is a tangible way to expand cultural awareness. Every family is different, so start with however much feels appropriate. Beginning the conversation can be a challenging endeavor, but it is also an important factor to consider when vocalizing the things that we are grateful for at the dinner table.

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