How to Honor Native American Communities at Thanksgiving

Growing up in the United States you were probably taught about the beautiful first harvest in Plymouth, Massachusetts that we now call Thanksgiving. You may have learned in school that Squanto, a rare Native American who spoke English taught settlers to hunt and grow crops such as corn and squash. And, as a result, the Pilgrims kindly repaid them with a three-day feast.

What you probably weren’t told was that Squanto was actually a slave who was captured in the early 1600s (which is how he learned English), and upon arriving in Europe he was sold to Spanish people. Squanto managed to escape Spain and eventually made his way back to the Americas. Thanksgiving wasn’t necessarily a thank you to the Wampanoag people but more-so just part of an agreement. The Wampanoag were decimated from both an epidemic and a harsh winter the year before so they made a deal with the settlers that they’d teach the settlers to harvest and navigate the land in exchange for protection.

Over time we have come to learn that Thanksgiving was truly built on a need for New England tourism. Thanksgiving was designed to deflect from the hauntings of slavery and genocide, to further progress the ideals of capitalism and manifest destiny. So, we have created a guide on how to have a Thanksgiving that truly honors the Indigenous American communities whose history has been neglected.

1. Acknowledge the National Day Of Mourning

Most Native Americans recognize what we call Thanksgiving as the National Day Of Mourning to pay respect for those who were lost to disease and violence inflicted by the Europeans who settled in the Americas. So let’s start by changing our intention from celebration to a day of reflection and reparation.

2. Learn About The Land You Are On

The next step to honoring the Native American community is to look into whose land you are on and make sure your efforts are geared towards that particular tribe. Every tribe has its own traditions, experiences, and practices, so doing your research is vital to honoring the history of the land you inhabit. You can use the Native Lands App to learn more about the Indigenous people of the land you are on as well as their unique languages and traditions.

3. Support Native Farmers and Distilleries

Traditionally during Thanksgiving, we feast and drink A LOT. This presents a great opportunity to shop for your essentials locally. Utilizing Native Farmers Market groups on Facebook or sites like AIANTA and Native Harvest Events will help guide you to your best local resources. AIANTA gives you info on markets throughout the midwest and the south, while Native Farmers Market gives you access to markets throughout Southern California. If you need to get a little tipsy to endure those obnoxious family conversations, tap in with Indigenous-owned distilleries like Bow & Arrow Brewing Co, Seven Clans, Indian Joe, Kita Wines, NK’MIP Cellars, Twisted Cedar, and Gruet Winery.

4. Invite Your Family To Join In On The Festivities

There are plenty of ways you can get your family to participate with you, such as asking them to cook some traditional Indigenous dishes together. Sean Sherman, the founder of The Sioux Chef, put together a list of 10 Essential Native American Recipes that would be perfect for any holiday meal. There are some really fun and engaging games that the entire family can enjoy. Once you learn about your local tribe’s traditions you will be able to access specific games relevant for each tribe at NativeAmericans.Mrdonn.

5. Implement Native American Films

A day typically reserved for football and a really boring and repetitive parade could be spent expanding your film selection. Indian Country Today put together a really great list of 11 Films You Can Stream Right Now, so no need to wait for Thanksgiving to hop in on the action. Some notable names are Shouting Secrets and Empire of Dirt.

6. Decolonize Your Playlist

Having a solid playlist while cooking can make sure your seemingly endless day in the kitchen feels like a breeze. Mix up your sounds and change your intentions by putting together a Thanksgiving playlist that celebrates and amplifies Native American artists. Some artists to keep an eye on; Nadjiwan, Lila Downs, Supaman, TwoLips, Romeo Void, Nahko, and Ulali.

7. Celebrate Native American Designers and Artists

Now let’s get you dressed. Shopping at small businesses is now more accessible than ever, so let’s take a dive into some Indigenous brands we can shop from.

  • B.Yellowtail: A Native American owned and operated fashion brand & retailer that specializes in storytelling through wearable art.
  • Curtis Oland: Lil’Wat-Canadian garment designer and interdisciplinary artist.
  • Evan Ducharme: A wardrobe of separates, outerwear, and eveningwear for the customer who demands authenticity in every aspect of their life.
  • EMME: NY based brand created by Korina Emmerich that is known to reflect her Indigenous heritage stemming from The Coast Salish Territory, Puyallup tribe.
  • OluKai: Footwear that combines durability for the waterman, ocean lifestyle, and a brand that has strong values and roots with style, comfort, and craftsmanship.

8. Support Native People

Especially in a year like 2020, it is even more important to directly support our Indigenous communities. According to U.S. News, Native Americans are 5.3 times more likely than white people to be hospitalized by COVID-19, and given the medical, financial, and food support disparity Native Americans face in this country it is imperative that our final step be the one we can’t skip out on.

The Native Wellness Institute promotes the well-being of Native people through programs and training that embrace the teachings and traditions of their ancestors. The First Nations COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund financially supports Native American people throughout the U.S., prioritizing highly condensed areas like California, New Mexico, and New York. Native American Heritage Association provides food security to Native communities throughout the U.S.

Localizing your search and efforts will help you connect directly with the people originally from the land you are on and will be the most direct way to honor those Native American communities. It is great to be informed as well as to inform others, but to see real change we have to focus on amplifying the voices of underrepresented communities, investing monetarily, and sharing resources.

Written by Gustavo Oliver.

Gustavo Oliver

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