In school, most of us learned about Thanksgiving, the first harvest that was celebrated peacefully between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people in 1621. What we didn’t learn about was the capture and enslavement of Native Americans, torture and mass killings, and colonization of Native American land that would follow.
Native Americans share a song at an anti-Columbus Day rally in NYC in 2019.
When European settlers arrived in America, an estimated 90% of indigenous peoples died, wiped out by disease and mass genocide. So while most Americans view Thanksgiving as a time to enjoy savory food and spend quality time with family, its meaning for Native people is much different. The legacy of colonization in America continues, and Thanksgiving should be a reminder that Non-Native Americans need to be better allies to Native Americans — especially considering that so much of Native culture, language, and religion were erased by colonization. This Thanksgiving you can honor and show your support for Native American people in several ways. Check out our list of ways to be an ally to Native people this Thanksgiving — and beyond:
Do Your Research
Find out truths that shape Native history. There are more than 500 Native tribes in the U.S. Do you know what tribes are located near you? Head to Native-Land.ca to find out. Learn how you can support tribes in your region. According to Illuminative Founder and Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk, “being a good ally begins with education and learning firsthand about the issues Native peoples face. Before you’re able to properly advocate for people affected by issues that you have never experienced, you have to understand the history behind systemic racism and the oppression of Native communities.” This Thanksgiving, dig a little deeper into Native history before spending time with family and friends.
Learn Indigenous History
Native people are not a monolith. Learn to differentiate between Native tribes by geography, language, and tribal history. Read the work of Native authors like Joy Harjo and Louise Erdrich to get a better understanding of what it’s like to grow up on a reservation. Make an effort to learn about Native people and tribes in your region, including their history, culture, and ties to the land. You’ll probably find that there once was a bustling Native community right where you live.
Support Local Tribes
Europeans stripped Native peoples of their culture, languages, and traditions. Support local tribes near you by visiting or volunteering. Buy Native products and tell your friends about Native owned businesses. Donate to organizations like the Native American Heritage Association, the First Nations Development Institute, the Native American Rights Fund, and the Adopt-a-Native-Elder Program.
Consume Indigenous Media
Don’t make assumptions based on what you know about one tribe or romanticized stereotypes of Native Americans. Instead, consume media produced by Indigenous people to get a better sense of what is happening in indigenous communities. Head to High Country News, Indian Country Today, or Native America Calling to get the latest on all things Native culture. When consuming non-Native media, say no to Native American–themed mascots and commercial products — these inaccurate and cartoonish depictions do not honor Native people. “One of the greatest challenges that Native Americans continue to face is one of invisibility. The majority of Americans don’t even know how many Native American tribes still exist. Erasure and stereotypes continue to define how we are portrayed across pop culture, policy, and educational curricula. In the face of this invisibility, I would call on allies to learn all that they can about Native cultures and do everything that they can to lift up Native voices and stories,” says Native American Rights Fund Executive Director John Echohawk.
Listen to Native People and Elevate Native Voices
Listening and engaging are some of the best ways to show your support for Native people. For Native people, Thanksgiving is yet another reminder of the erasure of Native culture. Talk to your Native American friends about colonization, identity formation, and what it’s like to be Native in America. But remember that Native people do not speak in a singular voice. Make sure a variety of Native voices are included in your conversations going forward. Taking the time to listen and have a dialogue means more than anything else.
Push to decolonize events like Thanksgiving to give Native American people the recognition and respect they truly deserve. But most importantly, acknowledge the strength and perseverance of Native people who — despite everything — continue on with pride.
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