One of my earliest memories is of being in a Thanksgiving play at school. It was first grade, and everyone in my class was assigned parts. Some of us were ‘Indians’, some of us were pilgrims, and some of us (including yours truly), were turkeys. I still remember the brown construction paper hat with the red, orange, and yellow ‘feathers’ that kept falling in my eyes as I gobbled my way across the gym stage.
Back then, no one my age questioned the Thanksgiving narrative, which was more giant potluck and trading of essential goods, rather than genocide, colonization, and smallpox. Given that Indigenous peoples are still suffering from the violence white colonizers inflicted on their people, their land, and their way of life, it can be difficult to feel celebratory around Thanksgiving. In fact, Native Americans and their supporters have been gathering in Plymouth on Thanksgiving Day since 1970 to acknowledge a National Day of Mourning.
Focus on family
To reconcile the origins of Thanksgiving with its modern-day celebratory vibe, we can focus on family, togetherness, and gratitude. We can also acknowledge and mourn the past while taking time to reflect.
We can also actively support Indigenous communities in several ways, such as:
- Attend or livestream the event from Plymouth, Massachusetts.
- Research and discover what Native bands or tribes occupied the land we now live on and visit by going to Native Land Digital or downloading the app. The map covers the US, Canada, much of Mexico, Australia, South Africa, and some of South America.
- Consult this list of resources to understand and honor the legacy of residential schooling that created systemic disparities in wealth and health and forced-family separations—the impacts of which are still reverberating to this day.
- For younger children, purchase or borrow from the library age-appropriate books that are culturally sensitive and help children learn about Indigenous peoples, family traditions, food, and the tradition of gratitude associated with Thanksgiving. This list includes 7 books written from the Native perspective.
- Start your holiday shopping early by supporting Indigenous-owned or led businesses. Find high-quality, cruelty-free cosmetics at Cheekbone Beauty; jewelry and accessories at Indi City; comfortable street wear at Urban Native Era; stunning silk scarves at B. Yellowtail; blankets at Beyond Buckskin; and organic, Fair-Trade coffee at Birch Bark Coffee Co.
Make beautiful, colorful culturally appropriate crafts such as beaded corn, Martha Stewart-approved corn husk dolls, dream catchers and feather necklaces.
Since there was likely no stuffing, pumpkin pie or even turkeys at the first Thanksgiving, you can also liven up your table with traditional dishes like succotash, bison meatballs, fry bread, or authentic blue corn tamales.
If we need a reminder of how thankful we are to be parents, here it is