How can a wholesome holiday such as Thanksgiving represent something so heinous?
To those of us who question the way our culture continues to celebrate Thanksgiving, some might respond, “Well, we should show gratitude, and getting together with friends and family is what it’s all about. Stop making everything political.”
But diminishing the violent history of colonization is a major problem in America. We were fed, and continue to feed, this narrative that the relationship between colonists and the peoples indigenous to this land was mutually beneficial. This was not the case, and it is nothing to be grateful for.
Just as many people have decided to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, many have also chosen to divest in celebrating Thanksgiving. However, Thanksgiving is institutionally ingrained in our society (i.e. we get time off work, etc.).
But we can come up with new traditions that uplift and celebrate the historically oppressed, rather than the oppressor. Here are three alternative things to do instead of celebrating Thanksgiving.
A quick note about language: I (as a non-Native person) will be referring to “Indigenous People” throughout this post. However, this is not a universal term for all Indigenous People. Some people prefer to be referred to by the name of their individual tribe, although that can get tricky with tribal politics (as with this one artist). Some prefer “Native.” Some people even prefer “Native American” or “Indian,” though these terms are outdated, as they give power to the colonial myth that Europeans were the first to “discover” America.
1. Educate yourself (and your family) about Indigenous Sovereignty
It is scary how we have been taught to think Indigenous People are largely a thing of the past. Colonization perpetuates this quiet erasure of Indigenous cultures.
Indigenous activists have been working hard to advocate for Indigenous Sovereignty. While this term has different meanings for different Indigenous people, the definition that most closely mirrors what I’m talking about here is how Indigenous experiences are represented, understood, and shared, and how that continues to be threatened by colonization. There are institutional threats imposed on Indigenous Sovereignty, such as the continued theft and destruction of Indigenous land for profit and the continued erasure of Indigenous culture.
People aren’t talking about these issues, and the more we spread awareness, the more we can collectively come together to promote Indigenous liberation.
To educate yourself more about Indigenous Sovereignty, you can start by following Indigenous voices on social media like @che.jim (one of my favorites) or reading authors like Robin Wall Kimmerer!
2. Participate in and appreciate (not appropriate) Indigenous practices to honor the Earth.
Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday of excess. We make so much food and then throw away the leftovers because we get tired of them. We follow up Thanksgiving with Black Friday, during which we buy a bunch of things we don’t need to replace the things we already have, creating more waste.
I will admit, I struggle with this the most. Capitalism has taught us to value convenience and materialism.
Different environmentally friendly practices are rooted in Indigenous culture, such as taking only what you need. Honor and show gratitude to the Earth for everything she provides to us. We can do this without appropriating practices like saging.
3. Gather and find community, sans Pilgrim and Indian costumes
At the end of the day, the holiday can still be about gathering and gratitude. We should show people we care about them all year long, but having this time to come together is important (just don’t call these people your tribe). I am not saying to stop celebrating gratitude.
But you don’t need to perpetuate the myth of a first Thanksgiving that was mutually beneficial for Indigenous People and colonialists. Switch up your narrative. As a Black person, I have never in my life celebrated Thanksgiving like this in my house. It is possible to celebrate togetherness without promoting genocide.
So go enjoy your people and your traditional turkey (or not because I hate roasted turkey), and acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous contributions!
P.S. Decorum is not worth your grandma saying racist shit 😉