A Side of History With Your Turkey

Camilla Fiordaliso, Writer

Thanksgiving is thought of as a holiday for family, food, and giving thanks. Every year on Thanksgiving approximately 19 million pies, 365 millionturkeys, and 250 million pounds of potatoes are consumed by Americans. American school children are told a story ofpilgrims who established the Plymouth Colony when indigenous communities in the area came to help teach them about aspects of the New World such as agriculture and the environment. However, the true origin of Thanksgiving is much darker and has affected indigenous people tothis day. Today’s sentiments of Thanksgiving, like gratitude and family, should still be celebrated, but we must also acknowledge the painful truth of this holiday.


Here are three ways you can celebrate Thanksgiving while being considerate of its history.


  1. Learn and Acknowledge the Real History


One crucial way to celebrate Thanksgiving mindfully is by understanding and acknowledging the dark and more unknown history of the holiday. The Pilgrims were English people who came across the water in order to gain the freedom to practice their own religion. The Pilgrims eventually landed on the shores of North America and promptly claimed the region for themselves. However, there was already a Native American tribe living on this land called the Wampanoags. US history classes in schools often portray the Pilgrims as the kind benefactors who prepared a large feast and then invited the underprivileged American Indians to share and enjoy the feast together. The true start of the Indigenous communities’ defeat by the Pilgrims is widely debated since they were not only attacked with violence but also deadly diseases the Europeans brought from overseas. However, according to This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving, by David Silverman, the sachem (chief) of the Wampanoags, Ousamequin offered the Pilgrims an “entente”, mostly as a way to protect the Wampanoags against their rivals, the Narragansetts. For 50 years, the alliance was tested by colonial land expansion, the spread of disease, and the exploitation of resources on Wampanoag land. Eventually, tensions ignited into war, and the conflict devastated the Wampanoags and forever shifted the balance of power in favour of European arrivals. It is not the sentiments of Thanksgiving, but rather the mistreatment of the indigenous people that are troublesome. Thanksgiving is a great time to express gratitude for what we have while acknowledging the reality of what got us here.


  1. Support Native Communities and Get Involved


Supporting and respecting indigenous communities is important year-round, but supporting them on Thanksgiving time is another way to respectfully celebrate the holiday. The first step to support indigenous communities is to recognize their struggle. Understanding indigenous people’s struggles can help to debunk the idea that being a “real American” means having one culture or following one religion. One way to support indigenous communities in their ongoing struggle against inequality is through protests. Currently, our country has a multitude of protests and movements happening to support indigenous rights and land. One example is the Fort Belknap Indian Community’s fight against the Keystone Pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline ran through sacred Native American land and threatened the agriculture and water supply of the tribes that live there. Multiple treaties and laws protecting indigenous communities would make the pipeline illegal. Indigenous activists and surrounding communities protested and fought for the protection of their land and their people. The Keystone Pipeline project was officially halted, proving the effect protesting can have. Whether by donating money, getting involved, or simply listening to their cause, we can respectfully celebrate Thanksgiving while honoring the communities once harmed by it.To support indigenous communities online, a couple of organizations you can donate to are the NDN Collective and The International Indigenous Youth Council. To get directly involved in a cause you can contact your local representative, or search up the #LandBack movement on social media to find a cause near you.


  1. Bring Native Dishes to Your Thanksgiving Table


The food we have come to think of as “Thanksgiving Food” isn’t actually what would have been eaten by settlers and native communities. Feasts included deer, cod, bass, corn (harvested by native communities), and porridge. Additionally, try out some indigenous recipes to add to your family’s table. Featured in HuffPost, indigenous chef Andrea Murdoch shares her Amaranth Corn Pudding recipe that is a tangy, sweet variation to traditional indigenous corn pudding. Murdoch calls for more modern ingredients such as coconut milk, maple syrup, and lime juice which are slight, but more present-day twist to a traditional recipe. In their book, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley share a delicious recipe for Wild Rice Cakes. Wild rice was once a very seasonal staple in the diets of many Native Americans.


Even if all you can do is listen and acknowledge indigenous communities this Thanksgiving, you are paying respect while celebrating the holiday.Thanksgiving and other holidays like Columbus Day are based on false ideas about  settlers and native people. The true sentiment of Thanksgiving is giving thanks and spending time with family and friends.It is important that we as a society move away from the idea of old ideas about Thanksgiving and find ways to celebrate it mindfully. When you’re sitting down at the table with your family this year, take a minute to consider the circumstances of Thanksgiving and its true sentiments. We do not have to stop celebrating Thanksgiving just because of its dark history, but rather keep it in consideration so we can truly show appreciation and gratitude.