10 organizations honoring natives on Thanksgiving


By Ashia Aubourg

As Thanksgiving approaches, some Indigenous organizations and activists warn of further injustices to Indigenous communities. Indigenous activist Mariah Gladstone, for example, encourages eaters to celebrate harvest time in a way that doesn’t involve stereotypes and pilgrim stories.

Critics of Thanksgiving often refer to the familiar tale of the pilgrims coming together and Wampanoag. They say this story whitewashes the history of settlement colonialism and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, contributing to modern injustices facing Indigenous communities.

Many also argue that through these false narratives and the actions that accompany them, such as dressing up in inaccurate Indigenous clothing, the holiday perpetuates cultural appropriation of Indigenous traditions and embraces stereotypes of Indigenous peoples.

In response, many communities are asking their allies to unlearn the nefarious history of Thanksgiving. Others also choose to celebrate the holiday while rejecting the status quo by decolonizing or re-indigenizing Thanksgiving. Re-indigenization can mean cooking a dish inspired by ancestral diets with pre-contact ingredients – foods that indigenous communities in North America had access to before the colonizers arrived – or even reconnecting with food spirituality. Through this process, communities argue that they can take action to honor the traditional eating habits of Indigenous peoples.

In honor of this work, Food Tank supports and shines the spotlight on organizations that forgo traditional Thanksgiving history and honor Indigenous communities.

1. Cheyenne River Youth Project, Eagle Butte, South Dakota

The community of Cheyenne River faces high rates of food insecurity due to decades of inequity. Founded in 1988, the Cheyenne River Youth Project responds to the community’s need for more services that support children and their families. In previous years, the organization has hosted a free dinner and celebratory event called Thanks for Kids, serving 250 community members. The project grows most of the ingredients for these dinners in their local two-acre, pesticide-free garden, Winyan Toka Win.

2. First Nations Development Institute, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Founded in 1980, the First Nations Development Institute strives to improve the economic conditions of Native Americans through direct financial grants, technical assistance, advocacy, and policy. First Nations publish resources that challenge historical myths surrounding Thanksgiving and propose actions to support Indigenous communities. These steps include: learning about and supporting food sovereignty and language preservation efforts by investing directly in indigenous-led initiatives, watching an informational video that challenges misconceptions and stereotypes about indigenous peoples, and share stories about Indigenous resilience.

3. I-Collective, United States

I-Collective strives to create new narratives that emphasize the resilience and contribution of Indigenous communities to food innovations, agriculture, the arts and society. The group aims to revise Thanksgiving by raising awareness of the impact of colonialism on the current struggle for food sovereignty. I-Collective urges people to unlearn Thanksgiving history, offering a collection of resources to support education.

4. Indigikitchen, Northwest Montana

Indigikitchen is an online cooking show that hopes to inspire cooks to re-indigenize their food. Founder Mariah Gladstone is recognized as a Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth. For the past few years, the show has run cooking classes focused on re-indigenizing Thanksgiving. According to Indigikitchen, re-indigenizing Thanksgiving involves rejecting the myths and stereotypes of Indigenous people and cooking pre-contact foods.

5. International Indigenous Youth Council, USA

The International Council of Indigenous Youth (IIYC) creates safe spaces for young people through education, spiritual practices and civic engagement. This year, IIYC is hosting a live chat in collaboration with White People for Black Lives on Thanksgiving, with the goal of giving viewers the opportunity to engage more deeply in Thanksgiving history. The IIYC believes discussions like this build knowledge and awareness and hope to address the legacy of the false story.

6. Native Americans in Philanthropy, United States

Native Americans in Philanthropy promotes fair and effective philanthropy in Indigenous communities, such as COVID-19 emergency food supply. Edgar Villanueva, chairman of the organization’s board, criticized the colonialist dynamic of philanthropy through his book Decolonize wealth. Villanueva also spoke about Thanksgiving, arguing that telling the true story of the holiday’s past is necessary to avoid repeating the trauma indigenous peoples have faced.

7. NDN Collective, Rapid City, South Dakota

NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to empowering Indigenous people. NDN Collective strives to achieve its mission through organization, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity building and narrative change. In 2018, NDN published an article highlighting the need to decolonize Thanksgiving and rekindle Indigenous relationships with food.

8. Seeding sovereignty, United States

Seeding Sovereignty is an Indigenous-led collective that radicalizes and disrupts colonized spaces through land, body, food sovereignty work, community building and cultural preservation. The collective educates their communities on the history of Thanksgiving by claiming the holiday as Truthsgiving. They are also amplifying events hosted by Indigenous leaders across the country as they celebrate, educate and honor the First Peoples of these lands for Truth Action 2020. Seeding Sovereignty calls for allies to support Indigenous Peoples not only in November, but every day of the year.

9. Chief Sioux, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sioux Chef is committed to revitalizing Native American cuisine by reclaiming an influential culinary culture that is long buried and often inaccessible. Many Indigenous people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving in protest. But Sean Sherman, founder of Sioux Chef, encourages those attending the party to rethink Thanksgiving by acknowledging the real history, honoring the hardships of Indigenous people, and creating a new celebration of the holiday.

10. Toasted Sister Podcast, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Founded in 2017, the Toasted Sister podcast highlights the stories of Indigenous chefs and eaters about Indigenous cuisine, where it came from, where it is heading, and how it connects Indigenous peoples and their communities to traditions. Andi Murphy, the founder of Toasted Sister Podcast, hopes to use the platform to illuminate the false narrative around Thanksgiving and help others dismiss that story. The Toasted Sister podcast also features various episodes of Indigenous culinary culture and provides guides to support the Indigenous community.

Republished with permission from Food Tank.

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