How Do Native People Spend Thanksgiving?
For many, rather than a celebration of peace and prosperity shared between Native Americans and Pilgrims, Thanksgiving represents the dark shadow of genocide and the resilience of Indigenous peoples.
Each tribe and each individual may have a different way of spending Thanksgiving. Some will reunite with their families and share a meal, exchanging prayers and stories from the rich oral history of Native Americans. Others will fast all day.
For tribal citizen Dennis W. Zotigh, Thanksgiving is “a day of mourning.” Zotigh is a member of the Kiowa Gourd clan and the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo Winter clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, the two main warlords of the Kiowa.
“For most Natives, Thanksgiving is not a celebration. Natives, especially in the New England area, remember this attempted genocide as a factual part of their history and remember it every year for modern Thanksgiving, ”Zotigh said.
Zotigh works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC
The United Native Americans of New England gather every year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill to mourn. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget the sacrifices and tragedies of its Indigenous people.
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Tribal Citizen Julie Garreau also describes Thanksgiving as “a day of mourning” for her people. Garreau lives on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and directs the Cheyenne River Youth Project.
This year, Julie is not celebrating Thanksgiving and instead is hosting an event on Native American Heritage Day called “Thanks for Kids,” which celebrates Native children. Kids at the Cheyenne River Preserve can enjoy homemade tacos and participate in fun activities. In the past they have done
In the past, she has prepared Indigenous dishes like bison roast and pumpkin soup, with the goal of honoring Indigenous history by cooking foods that Indigenous people would normally have eaten.
Garreau also worked with children in the Cheyenne River Youth Project to make wasna, a traditional Plains Indian food made from a mixture of dried meat (usually bison), dried berries (usually Virginia cherries. ) and fat (usually kidney fat or bone marrow). ) which is pounded with a mortar and pestle.
In other years, they taught classes to teach Native children to sew moccasins together.
Joshua Arce, President and CEO of The Native American Partnership, still attends Thanksgiving but sees the holiday as a way to get together as a family and celebrate Indigenous culture. He is part of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, a federally recognized tribe in Kansas.
“I had a very blended family because my mother’s side is Native American and my father’s side is Mexican-American. It was always about being with the family,” says Arce. “It’s about being able to celebrate the resilience of our families in many ways.”
In addition to a Thanksgiving turkey, Arce’s family will also eat casseroles of wild rice, given that wild rice was a staple for the Potawatomi tribe of the northern Great Lakes region.
Thanksgiving celebrations are also heavily prayer-centric, which includes thanking and remembering parents who came before us and praying for a good fall and winter, especially to stay warm all winter and meet needs, says Arce.
Like Garreau and Zotigh, Arce also called Thanksgiving “a day of mourning” which creates multigenerational and intergenerational trauma. He associates it with Eurocentric terms that came to dominate Indigenous peoples, such as colonization, discovery, and manifest destiny.
What can we do to respect aboriginal people?
Garreau says the best thing people can do is educate themselves and learn the real Thanksgiving story.
Garreau points out that Native Americans in South Dakota have long tried to change school curricula to more accurately reflect Indigenous history, but have been repeatedly shot down by the state legislature.
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Garreau and Arce all described learning Thanksgiving as a harmonious celebration involving mutual cooperation and respect. They had a rude awakening in adulthood learning the real story and understanding the dynamic between colonizers and colonized.
“Thanksgiving, as the origin story of the United States, leaves out painful truths about our nation’s history. Presenting Thanksgiving to children as first and foremost a happy time trivializes our shared history and teaches a half. truth, ”Zotigh says.
However, Zotigh and Arce recognize that describing the true story of Thanksgiving may be too much for young children given the violence and harsh realities of colonization.
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“While I agree that elementary school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classes are too young to hear the truth, educators should share the facts of Thanksgiving in all American schools sometime before graduation. secondary, ”Zotigh said.
As part of her work at The Native American Partnership, Arce has also prepared material on her website (nativepartnership.org) that explains the real story of Thanksgiving. They even developed lesson plans to discuss the topic sensitively with children from Kindergarten to Grade 3. They include age-appropriate lessons on Indigenous culture and heritage, culturally appropriate crafts, book recommendations, and writing help ideas.
Arce also points out that less than 1% of charitable donations support Indigenous causes and recommends donating to Indigenous causes on I Give Tuesday.
While each of these tribal citizens spend their Thanksgiving differently, they all take the time to acknowledge the atrocities of the past and thank their ancestors.
Giving thanks has always been part of the daily life of Native Americans, Zotigh says.
You can follow author Michelle Shen @ michelle_shen10 on Twitter.