Celebrating Indigenous history from the dinner table and beyond
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Apart from the desperately needed break and inevitable food coma, there really isn’t much to celebrate when it comes to Thanksgiving.
Under no circumstance should every member of the family (aggressively Republican uncle included) coexist under the same roof in a post-election timeline. Pre-Thanksgiving grocery shopping is basically the cornucopia scene in the Hunger Games. And nobody can convince me that turkey is an enjoyable protein option. It’s not.
And of course, there’s the minor addition of Thanksgiving essentially commemorating the vicious abuse and slaughtering of Native Americans by American colonists. To refresh your memory, here’s the gory truth:
The friendly story you’ve been told regarding the first Thanksgiving as a moment of alliance between Pilgrims and the contemporary Wampanoag Nation is a lie. Instead, Native Americans were drawn to the sound of Plymouth colonists firing guns and canons in celebration of a good harvest. Native Americans stuck around for three days because they were suspicious and also offered most of the food at the feast. All those paintings of empty-handed Natives being given food by white people is a lie. The legacy of the relationship between Native Americans and American colonists is not one based in communion and mashed potatoes — but instead, in the 12 million Indigenous people that died a decade later.
Despite all this, we don’t have to subject Thanksgiving to the claws of cancel culture. Instead, we can start down the path of decolonizing the holiday as a whole — making it something worth celebrating to begin with.
Just by reading the brief history recap above, you’re already headed down the right track.
Reimaging Thanksgiving through an Indigenous lens begins with decolonizing your own understanding of history.
An easy way to start is with your hometown or current residence. Make the effort to learn whose Native lands you live on, and then do further research into that tribe. The Native Lands website allows you to do this easily, splitting North and South America into territories, languages and treaties.
Take it a step further: decolonize your Thanksgiving meal.
To Native American chef Nephi Craig, this process encompasses examining “what you've been taught around food or nutrition, and tak[ing] a deep look to see if the standard American dietary pyramid reflects you as an individual.”
It’s a very personalized, multifaceted decision. Simply identify what foods are Indigenous, either to the Americas as a whole or your specific geographic location, and go from there. This element redefines the Thanksgiving experience while also recognizing Indigenous values and practices. (A double win!)
You can also practice a decolonized mindset at the dinner table by testing out a recipe popular among Native American communities. These meals are often simple and integrate three staples of the Indigenous diet: corn, beans and squash.
Make Thanksgiving a day to lift up and listen to Native American and Indigenous voices.
Whether through documentaries, novels written by Indigenous authors or the campaigns of Native American activists, use the holiday to recognize the descendants of those who suffered in the name of Thanksgiving — not the colonizers who created the holiday out of bloodshed.
So when it comes to decolonizing Thanksgiving, remember to celebrate the communities who truly deserve to be honored.
And honestly, you're probably better off dropping the turkey altogether. The sides are better anyway.
Veronica Nocera is a Staff Writer at Rowdy Magazine. Her simple pleasures include hoarding stationery, rewatching '90s romcoms, and romanticizing the lives of 20th century female authors. She's intensely passionate about the power of language, social justice, and the overlap between past and present. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info!