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In the late 1700s, George Washington declared November 26 a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. Seventy-four years later, Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November to celebrate the Union’s military successes in Civil War. And in 1941, FDR signed a resolution changing the date from the last Thursday to the fourth Thursday of the month. Since then, many have chosen to replace the traditional celebration with ones that honor their sociopolitical or familial beliefs.
In some households, Pilgrims and “Indians” are never mentioned. Traditional American history is never mentioned. The day is about spending time with family, and of course the culinary delights prepared by the matriarchs of our families. My family would stand in a circle holding hands. We’d each share what we’re thankful for. My paternal grandmother would then pray and bless the food. For some it’s about giving thanks by giving back to those who don’t have families to spend time with, or a meal to eat. They go to church, visit hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, food pantries, or folks on the streets in their communities. Some sponsor dinners for families who are experiencing financial challenges.
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How to Support Indigenous People on Thanksgiving
Here are some ideas for what to do on Thanksgiving instead of showing your gratitude for colonizers.
While there’s no harm in taking the time to be grateful for your loved ones, here’s what you can do instead of extending that thanks to pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, or any other colonizers.
- Find out which tribe(s) are indigenous to your area, and what they’ve endured so that you could live there. Online maps like Native Land and this one on Native Languages can help. Once you know whose land you live on, read up on the history of that tribe as written by them to get the full picture of where you live, and extend your thanks and appreciation, either in words or money, to said tribe.
- As you remember the Wampanoag people, who allegedly sat down to feast with pilgrims in the early 1600s, understand that not all Indigenous people are the same. Many prefer to refer to themselves not as “Native American” or “Indigenous,” but specifically by their tribe’s name. Each tribe has its own set of traditions, practices, and beliefs. To learn more about the nuances and designations that Indigenous people use to refer to themselves, read this.
- Thanksgiving preparation can take a lot of time. Instead of interpreting this as making the most time-consuming, extravagant recipes you can find, spend more effort reading about the history of the country as a whole as told by indigenous people. Exiled in the Land of the Free: Democracy, Indian Nations, and the U.S. Constitution by Oren Lyons is a good place to start. If your histories of North America have all come from white men, you’re not getting the full picture.
- Your knowledge and support are nice, but put your money where your mouth is, if you have the means. Instead of spending money on a new outfit to impress your family or an expensive bakery dessert, allocate some of that money to local organizations like the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) or national ones like The American Indian College Fund, anything helps. You can find a list of organizations catering to Indigenous people here.
- Consume, and more importantly purchase, art, books, and goods by Indigenous people. Ask yourself which Thanksgiving dinner ingredients you can get from indigenous sources, then use this list of Native-owned businesses to find them. Instead of doing the Black Friday thing, gift a book or piece of art by an indigenous author to a loved one to show them your appreciation. I recommend Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women by Wilma Mankiller and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. You can find a list of great books by indigenous people here and recommendations from the First Nations Development Institute here. You can buy Indigenous art online at websites like Shumakolowa.
- From putting the first man on the moon to fighting for our environment, we have infinite reasons to be thankful for indigenous women. Show your gratitude towards them this Thanksgiving by donating to organizations that stand up for them, like the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. (According to the Indian Law Resource Center, “More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than one in two have experienced sexual violence.”)
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