As we approach the holiday season, many are gearing up to celebrate Thanksgiving on November 26. Countless people who practice this tradition recount the tales of Native Americans and settlers having a benevolent feast to celebrate prosperity. However, the story of Thanksgiving Americans are commonly taught glosses over the immense horrors and injustices dealt to Native Americans by settlers in the forms of genocide, plague, and theivery of their lands. Senior Isabella Aragoza explained, “I remember doing activities in elementary school around Thanksgiving, like learning about indigenous people by making paper headdresses, that taught us to ignore the exploitation of Native Americans, and it’s a challenge to unlearn those things.”
Luckily, there are many ways to decolonize the harmful aspects of the holiday, the first and arguably most important being accepting history for what it is and acknowledging the genocide of Native American people by white settlers. Having constructive conversations about Thanksgiving and working to understand the history behind the invasion of Native lands brings voices that have been repressed for centuries into the foreground and helps bring humility to the lives of those who live on indigenous land, aka all Americans. The New York Times argued that understanding that the liberties and freedoms that are available to us in this country came at the expense of prolonged human suffering is essential to truly having gratitude for those privileges (nytimes.com).
Reading the works of Native American authors and learning about Native American history is another great way to develop a more complete and truthful historical narrative. According to CNN, “Tommy Orange, Louise Erdrich, Stephen Graham Jones and Joy Harjo are among the many Native American authors celebrated for their works. Of course, not all their books are historical accounts. Many are fiction, romance and even horror. You can also read up on the history of Native Americans using resources provided by the National Archives” (cnn.com).
Food preparation is also a great way to decolonize the tradition. This Thanksgiving, forget the turkey and stuffing and insead try cooking a Native American dish. Not only is this a great way to connect with indigenous cultures, it’s also a way to be more sustainable and purchase locally grown, native ingredients. According to a local food publication, San Diego’s own Kumeyaay people have a rich culinary history that includes lots of native foods like agave, acorn masa, and prickly pear cactus (ediblesandiego.com). A social justice non-profit stated that other common ingredients in Native American cuisine are salmon, squash, chestnuts, berries, and microgreens — all of which can be combined into unique and tasty dishes that are sure to spice up any Thanksgiving dinner (bioneers.org).
For those able to, returning wealth is also a way to help uplift Native American people and mitigate the damage caused by white settlers. No matter where you live in the United States, you’re living on land that has a rich indigenous history that often goes untold and whose people remain uncompensated for what was forcibly taken from them. In order to rectify this, many local nonprofits have cropped up; for instance, in Seattle, an organization called Real Rent is fighting to gain the Duwamish people recognition through a program that allows Seattleites to pay ‘rent’ for the tribal land they live on. The ‘rent’ “goes to the non-profit Duwamish Tribal Services run by the Duwamish Tribe. With limited resources, DTS provides social, educational, health, and cultural services” (realrentduwamish.org). While San Diego doesn’t have something as direct as Real Rent yet, it is possible to donate to local Native American organizations to help our community.
At Thanksgiving’s roots are misleading tales meant to cover centuries of bloodshed and repression endured by Native Americans. However, decolonizing practices like studying history and engaging with Native American culture can help rewrite the narrative to better reflect the truth and help mitigate centuries worth of damage brought upon Native Americans by colonialism. Even better, engaging in these practices can help us all feel better about our place in the world — because, in the end, Thanksgiving should be a holiday of gratitude for everyone.