This year, I am finally acknowledging the problematic nature of American Thanksgiving.
I am a white woman of privilege. I am a “landowner.” I live on land that was once inhabited by the Catawba and Cherokee people. I live on land that was violently stolen from these indigenous people, and yet I claim to have ownership over it myself. (And I fully acknowledge what a privileged statement it is to say I am just now wrestling with these problems.)
I was also raised in a family with many pleasant and warm Thanksgiving traditions. We travel across the country to be together. We prepare and eat beautiful food. We laugh. We drink wine. We share what we are thankful for out loud and often shed tears of gratitude together.
So how do I reconcile the dark history of colonization in this country and the false retelling of the “Thanksgiving Fairytale” with beautiful traditions that bring people together? I don’t fully know, but I do know that this year, I’m trying to do better. Here is how my family and I are getting started:
1. I am delving into resources generously shared by indigenous people.
Potawatomi author and speaker Kaitlin B. Curtice has put together an outstanding and valuable blog post with resources that can help us all better understand the reality of Thanksgiving’s history in the United States. Read it.
2. I am acknowledging with a spirit of thankfulness the people who used to inhabit the land I live on.
I live on land once inhabited by the Catawba and Cherokee people. Learn whose land you live on. In an effort to keep these people at the front of my mind throughout this month of thankfulness, I placed their names over the center of my dinner table. I thank them for caring for the land long before my family’s ancestors ever set foot on this soil.
3. I’m READING.
If we want to learn and understand indigenous perspectives, we must listen to the voices of indigenous people. Kaitlin B. Curtice assembled this list of 25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading.
If you want to break cycles of colonization and assimilation, you must take the time to learn from Indigenous experiences, through our own words. – Kaitlin B. Curtice
4. I am existing in the tension.
We will still cook and serve a meal with our families this Thanksgiving. We will gather and eat and laugh and share what we are thankful for. But we will also acknowledge the people who once inhabited this land. We will acknowledge with a spirit of mourning the terrible, unforgivable injustices suffered by indigenous people in the United States. We will acknowledge the fact that “The First Thanksgiving” is nothing more than an oppressive fairytale.
Thanksgiving in America is not black and white. It is flawed, fraught, and a deep shade of grey. But within this tension is where we learn. Within this tension is where we all have the opportunity to know better, do better, and become better human beings.