Thanksgiving is generally recognized as a day of reflection and gratitude. It’s a day that’s best known for the enticing aroma of a delectable, homemade meal and the comforting feeling of being surrounded by precious loved ones—but not everyone shares these sentiments.
Unfortunately, the history of Thanksgiving isn’t as idyllic as what’s portrayed in school or in the media. For example, in grade school—in between drawing turkeys out of hand tracings and creating feather headbands out of paper—I first learned about the Plymouth Colony’s earliest celebratory feast. To mark their first successful autumn harvest, and to thank the Natives for teaching them how to cultivate the land, I was taught how the Pilgrims peacefully dined with the Natives during a three-day-long festival. But this isn’t exactly the whole truth. Although certain aspects of it may be true, this depiction of the holiday doesn’t entirely portray an accurate description of the relationship between the settlers and the Natives. In other words, it’s a sugar-coated version of actual events. You see, with the settlers came disease, violence, and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people. For these very reasons, many choose not to celebrate the controversial holiday.
Whether you feel obligated to celebrate due to family tradition or are genuinely excited for the Thanksgiving festivities, take a moment to acknowledge the true reality of what the indigenous people went through in the past and what they are still dealing with today. Regardless of whether you choose to celebrate or not, here are five ways you can be mindful on Thanksgiving—and every other day of the year!
Be Considerate Of Those Who Choose Not To Celebrate
For those who have chosen to celebrate Thanksgiving, be mindful of those who have chosen not to. Many Natives see Thanksgiving as a continual reminder of their ancestors’ suffering and choose not to observe the holiday. In lieu of celebrating, Native Americans residing in New England created the National Day of Mourning (also held on the 4th Thursday of every November) in order to educate Americans about Thanksgiving’s dark past and to honor their ancestors. On the West Coast, Unthanksgiving Day is an annual event held on Alcatraz Island to honor Natives and to promote their rights. If you live close to either of these events or know of a similar event in your city, perhaps you can attend to get a different perspective on the holiday.
Appreciate, Don’t Appropriate!
One of the easiest—yet continually ignored—ways to be mindful on Thanksgiving is to not appropriate Native American cultures, or any culture for that matter. In a nutshell, cultural appropriation is using certain aspects of a culture that is not your own (especially one that’s marginalized) in a way that is disrespectful to that culture. Skip the typical “Pilgrims and Natives at a feast” decorations (yes, the paper feather headdress I made in elementary school is a terrific example of this) and decorate your home in a way that doesn’t mock Native culture. Of course, there isn’t an all-encompassing guide to help you differentiate between appropriating a culture and appreciating it, but there are a few simple rules you can follow—such as not using religiously or spiritually sacred aspects of a culture that is not your own (e.g., wearing a Day of the Dead costume for Halloween).
Get Involved With Native-Led Causes
From the fight to get the Washington D.C. football team’s name changed to efforts to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, there are many Native-led causes that you can get behind and support. Undoubtedly, the amount of hardships Natives face compared to other races is truly heartbreaking. Natives face higher rates of unemployment, are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses, have higher dropout rates in high school, receive inadequate health care, are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration, still face dispossession of land, and suffer from natural resource exploitation. Moreover, Native women are more likely to be raped than women of any other race. Stand with Natives by signing relevant petitions and by donating your time or money to Native American organizations.
Support Native-Owned Businesses
Some of the most common offenders when it comes to appropriating Native cultures are businesses and companies that sell Native items that weren’t actually made by Natives. In order to help ease the issues of unemployment and poverty that Natives face on a daily basis, make it a point to purchase authentic goods from Native American businesses. This is a terrific option if you haven’t already done all of your holiday shopping!
Don’t Be Afraid To Talk About It
At the end of the day, the best way to be mindful about Native Americans and their feelings towards Thanksgiving is to speak up about the issues they face. Don’t be afraid to talk about the subject at your Thanksgiving dinner table! Although it may be an uncomfortable topic for some, the only way to make a difference is to educate others! Talk about Thanksgiving’s troubled past so that your family and friends are aware of how others may view the day and so they can get involved!
How do you mindfully celebrate Thanksgiving?
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