Native people have a different take on Thanksgiving – YubaNet


Thanksgiving can be a time of celebration, gratitude, and sharing. It is also often a time when people are helping the most vulnerable in our communities, through donations to food banks, volunteer services in missions and shelters, and similar acts of compassion coinciding with the onset of a difficult cold season for those who do not have the adequate resources. That said, it can also be a time of remembrance and mourning in Native American communities.

Common manzanita berries, black oak acorns, wild California grapes, salt and black walnuts. Photo by Peter Nelson

The account that many people learned in elementary school about the first Thanksgiving celebration in the United States is based on historically inaccurate myths that fail to recognize the devastation caused by settler colonialism, including genocide, land theft, forced assimilation and cultural appropriation.

Many Native people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving; some engage in a day of mourning, protesting against the genocide perpetrated against their ancestors and the continued oppression. Others respect centuries-old values ​​and traditions centered on the family, the land and the harvest. As educators, it is important for us to understand the atrocities experienced by indigenous peoples at the hands of European settlers, and indigenous perspectives on thanksgiving – a time to honor ancestors, including the lands, the plants and animals that are understood as relationships – when we communicate about the meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration.

The harvest celebrations certainly did not originate with the settlers and Native Americans sharing a meal at the 17e century, but instead have been an integral part of the fabric of Indigenous existence since time immemorial, noted Elizabeth Hoover, professor at UC Berkeley (of Mohawk / Mi’kmaq descent).

“For the Haudenosaunee (in the Northeast), the Thanksgiving Speech (Ohen: your Karihwatehkwen, the words that come before everything else) is recited before every important event,” Hoover said. “There are Thanksgiving feasts when the thunders begin, when the sap flows, when it’s time to plant the seeds, when the first wild strawberries come out, when the green beans are ready, when the green corn is ready. ready, when the harvest is ready – several times throughout the year.

Taking a decolonizing approach to Thanksgiving rejects Thanksgiving myths and harmful stereotypes about Indigenous peoples that reinforce oppression, and invites opportunities to deepen our collective understanding of Indigenous history, d ” amplify Indigenous perspectives that highlight the diversity of Indigenous peoples and consumption patterns, and support Indigenous Peoples. has led food sovereignty and land stewardship initiatives that affirm the contemporary presence and self-determination of Indigenous peoples in 21st century America.

Professor Peter Nelson of UC Berkeley (Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria) offers this helpful insight: “We have many points on which we thank for what our non-human relationships give us or honor the changing seasons and times of life. gathering. The fall in my language, Coast Miwok (Tamal Machchaw), is’ umpa walli or acorn hour. Some of these concepts do not translate exactly from English. “Thank you”, or ka molis, means something like I’m happy. We express a state of being or what it makes us feel. The same is true of the concept of “I’m sorry”, which does not exist in our language. We have to invent something like “my heart is sad”, ka wuskin sawa. Again, a state of being and there is a feeling that you should just express how to fix things if they are not in a good mood. Hearing an apology from a settler is not enough. Do something about it.

Consider focusing Thanksgiving messages on social and environmental justice by sharing resources to learn about the authentic history of Native Americans, contemporary Native American peoples and communities in urban and rural areas, and by supporting the growing sovereignty movement. Indigenous food among Native Americans to reclaim and restore their food systems through eco-cultural restoration and self-determination.

The following resources are suggested by Elizabeth Hoover, Peter Nelson and others to learn more about the Native American perspective on vacationing in the United States.

Decolonizing the History and Meaning of Thanksgiving:

  • Share these powerful short videos on Thanksgiving word association and the natives describing Thanksgiving that are helpful in understanding the Native American perspective on the holidays.
  • Watch this brief speech by Linda Coombs (Aquinnah Wampanoag), who ran the Indigenous Wampanoag Program and the Plymouth Plantation, at the site of the allegedly original Thanksgiving Meal, for a better perspective on the myths surrounding the origins of Thanksgiving.
  • Also read this speech Frank James attempted to give ahead of the 1970 Pilgrim’s Progress parade in Plymouth. His rejection after organizers heard the contents of his speech led to the National Day of Mourning counter-parade that takes place every year.
  • This article, “The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is A Harmful Lie. As a Native American I Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holidays,” is a helpful resource in which Sioux Chief Sean Sherman advocates for Thanksgiving. focuses on values ​​that apply to everyone: unity, generosity and gratitude, as well as acceptance Indigenous foods, which are central to Thanksgiving meals, including turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, cranberries, wild rice, etc.
  • An excellent compilation of resources for youth and families, by Lindsey Passenger Wiek, can be found in Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in Schools, which includes books, articles, and lesson plan inspirations, several of which are listed. below.
  • Suggestions for helpful books and educational resources for teaching Thanksgiving in a socially responsible manner, including lesson plans for all ages, are provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center at magazine / teaching-thanksgiving-in-a-socially-responsible-way.

Learn about the Indigenous history of the United States and the Indigenous lands and peoples where you live:

  • Spend time researching the environmental and cultural history of the lands you are on, starting by identifying the lands you reside on via this interactive map of indigenous territories and find out how you can support them.
  • Find out how the University of California (all higher education institutions granting land for that matter) was founded on the expropriation and sale of native land that was “ceded” to each state under Morrill Law in this High Country News article and this UC Land Grab Workshop Series. On this interactive map created by UC IGIS at, you can identify specific plots that have been “granted” and the indigenous communities from which they were taken.
  • Learn about the history of Indigenous peoples and the American genocide in the United States, by reading Benjamin Madley An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873i, Vine Deloria 1969 Custer died for your sins, Dunbar Ortiz A History of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States, or Dee Brown’s classic Bury my heart in Wounded Knee.

Discover, support and amplify Indigenous-led food sovereignty and land stewardship initiatives in California:

  • Watch the film Gather, featuring Indigenous leaders, scientists and activists from across the country working to restore their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, including Samuel Gensaw (Yurok), co-founder of the Ancestral Guard, committed to restoring the eating habits of the North Coast of California.
  • Learn more about Indigenous Food Pathways initiatives in Civil Eats reports.
  • Showcase Indigenous chefs in your communications, such as Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino from Café Ohlone and Crystal Wahpepah to honor their Indigenous food heritage.
  • Promote Indigenous food suppliers and other Indigenous-owned businesses not only in November, but throughout the year to honor Indigenous culture and ethical practices.
  • Learn about and support Indigenous-led land stewardship efforts to restore cultural burning practices of the Karuk Tribe, Amah Mutsun Land Trust, and North Fork Mono Tribe, among others, to improve relationships healthy with the earth and mitigate the catastrophic fires that have devastated California communities and ecosystems.
  • Read the First Nations Development Institute’s report on California’s Indigenous Land Stewards for more information on Indigenous-led urban and rural stewardship initiatives and Indigenous perspectives across the state, including Sogorea Te ‘ Land Trust, a community organization run by urban Indigenous women that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone’s lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to Indigenous stewardship.
  • Read Elizabeth Hoover’s blog on Native American agriculture and food sovereignty

Tribute to Indigenous Peoples and Thanksgiving Perspectives:

  • In addition to reading, you may consider visiting a local Native American museum or cultural center during part of the vacation (courtesy of Eve Bratman).
  • Play the song Custer died for your sinsand other Indigenous resistance songs as music during your celebration. To get started, check out Rebel Beat Radio and Indigenous Resistance (courtesy Eve Bratman)
  • Take a moment of silence and remembrance for the ancestors and those whose lands you occupy, before your meal. Establish intentions to learn more and take action to support Indigenous people.

Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Co-op Extension Specialist at UC Berkeley, and Sabrina Drill, UC Co-op Extension Advisor in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, Collaborate with Native Americans on Research on the environment and food sovereignty.


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