How Do I Celebrate Thanksgiving In A Way That Is Not Offensive To Native Americans

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges.

 POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.

Question:

I have a question about Native culture and Thanksgiving. I think of Thanksgiving as just a holiday that brings my family together and we eat a lot of food, but I know that the connotations of what we (predominantly European descended Caucasians) are celebrating can be negative. How do I celebrate Thanksgiving in a way that isn’t offensive? Or it even offensive? Are you the right person to ask? I’m sorry, I just don’t know what I don’t know.

Native Responses:

My family has always used it as a time to get together – usually it’s not on the actual day because of our work schedules, but we still get together and eat. I am not personally uncomfortable by non-Native families spending time with their families. I would skip the pilgrim/Indian themed napkins though….

The holiday needs to be reframed Friendsgiving or whatever else they wanna slide in on. Maybe paying respects to the land they live on or they can find the nearest rez and volunteer. Idk. White People shit that helps better them through education.

Our family does things differently than most…I start the day with a sunrise ceremony on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, where the indigenous community comes together and collectively heals and honors the day, reclaiming it. This is important for me because it sets my mindset for the rest of the day. I won’t be upset or hurt by the holiday because I  have already claimed it. The rest of the day is spent with family. We eat (yes, turkey) and we share stories and laughter and talk about what we are thankful for. We speak our language, play with our nieces and nephews and the elder of our family says prayer. For me, I can’t speak for all Natives, the only thing offensive about European Americans celebrating the holiday is when their classes play dress up or have a mock feast. (This feat never happened in the way most think it did…it was a slaughter.) If you want to celebrate respectfully, I would keep that story out of the holiday in its fairytale form.

I feel like Wednesday Addams already answered this back in ’93. Haha. It would be nice to get together as families and have holidays/time off for other reasons than celebrating colonialism or religion or both.

Thanksgiving will be offensive when the people celebrating it don’t acknowledge or know about the real history behind it. I have reclaimed this day along with my family as a way to honor being in a family and a survivor. Also respect yourself and your family by getting together to eat on other days besides Thanksgiving. I know many people including myself that take advantage of this day because of work, school, etc. But family is sacred and we must make time to create even more special days. Last thing, to not give thanks only on one day, be grateful every single day.

I don’t think it’s offensive to have a family gathering. We look forward to a turkey dinner every year, but since I was a child, I was taught the true history at home and was reminded why we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I do think it’s respectful to learn, acknowledge, and teach the truth behind the meaning of Thanksgiving holiday and also Indigenous Peoples Day (Columbus Day).

As Anishinaab, I come from a family of ranchers, hunters, and fisherman. We celebrate Thanksgiving for all that we have gained over the Harvest season and actually enjoy fruits of the wild during this day. I have never though about it as a day for Pilgrims and Indians. For us growing up, it was a time of celebration of hard work amongst the family. My grandparents house would be busting at the seams with extended family. The kids would put on plays for all the uncles and aunties to enjoy. It was a great time and some of the best times of my life. I must add that we often had family friends who were not Native enjoy this day with us. Often aunties, uncles and older siblings who had gone to college would bring home friends who have been Black, White, Asian and of different Native blood. Everyone is welcome in our family no matter what race or color. I guess the only thing I would request/ask as a Native to a non-Native celebrating Thanksgiving is respectfully celebrate diversity.

So my family has taken it as a day to acknowledge the awful way indigenous people were treated and celebrate the fact that we are still here despite campaigns of genocide. In grad school, an Indigenous faculty member hosts “resilience day” feasts with traditional foods (she’s Navajo), and invites Indigenous students on campus to come and celebrate the day with her. I love this! This is how I plan to call and celebrate this day from now on.

A lot of Natives still have “Thanksgiving”. We do just that, we get together to give thanks for all we have. To us it’s not a holiday we celebrate as when the Whites and natives came together, but pretty much an excuse to spend time with our families over a meal…we still eat turkey…who doesn’t like turkey?

Oh hello, Navajo here. Over the last 6 years I’ve been calling it “you’re welcome day” cause think I’m the funniest person I know. Six years go I was also going through a transition of deconverting from a non-denominational Christian to accidental atheism (long story). In my transition, I found ways to discover my Navajo culture as a joke to help with reality on Thanksgiving. I started calling it “you’re welcome day”. As of last year, I noticed a “trend” within Indigenous cultures that were my age as honoring Thanksgiving by calling it “National Day Of Mourning”. It’s great to have the time off work to be with friends and family, but they also use the day to have time to honor our fallen ancestors due to colonization. This is something I will be honoring this year, mourning and remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a silent protest of the racism and oppression, which Native Americans like myself continue to experience. I hope to be surrounded by allies and celebrate.

I’m not sure about celebrating or not, but I think White People and all settlers have a responsibility to educate each other and themselves about Native issues and the truth of the story for that day. I think celebrating the change of seasons would have been in place with many cultures in touch with the land. Maybe more emphasis on that would be healthier.

White Responses:

I think being with your family during the holidays is great and eating good food is always nice. But don’t have any Native themed decorations or napkins like another person said and make sure you educate yourself on what happened on Thanksgiving. And acknowledge the injustices that happened and still happen to this day. I find Thanksgiving kind of the indicator that fall is here and I won’t complain about statutory holiday pay.

I never grew up celebrating Thanksgiving with a lot of “tradition”, we just got together as families and shared a typical Thanksgiving meal and the idea that I knew was to celebrate God’s blessings (family, fiends, agricultural year, safety). I remember as a kid reading a picture chapter book and I think people celebrated “together” (Native Americans and pioneers). This idea that for one day people gathered is definitely problematic. Last year I found out Columbus Day in the US is the same as Canadian Thanksgiving. I couldn’t’ find if these at all happened to be tied.

POC Responses:

If you’re in the Bay Area, you can pay respects to local tribes on Thanksgiving morning by going to the Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island (in San Francisco). It’s cold as fuck and you have to get on the ferry at 3AM, but it’s an unforgettable experience!

Recently heard of it as Thankstaking Day. That’s so accurate because even in meeting, we just meet to eat and take like it was done so originally. (We also bond and have a nice time with food babies.)

In Massachusetts, a National Day of Mourning takes place in response to Thanksgiving. It’s held in Plymouth every year since 1971 and non-Natives are welcome (given the proper etiquette of not speaking above Native voices.

So I’m a teacher. Not from the US or Canada and I’ve never taught there. I taught in a school (very rich private school) where they teach in English. They celebrate North American holidays hardcore and they teach this narrative. They even wanted me to wear a headdress made of paper (which I declined). They call Native Americans “Indians” and the kids play wear the headdresses too and I guess “play”. The story being taught is the old school one that denies any truth about what happened. I suggested teaching a more realistic account of what happened. Make the narrative less propagandary at least. But they were just like no and looked at me like a kill joy. The problem is that this is being taught all over the world wherever English is being taught. I know other schools in Colombia do the same. Plus I teach English online now on a Chinese platform. I logged in to prepare for class and I saw the song was ‘One Little Indian’ with cartoons. I message the company lots about it but they don’t care. Other teachers agree it’s disgusting. There’s a massive problem with this propaganda narrative being taught around the world wherever English is being taught.

I really like reading how people celebrate Thanksgiving, especially Native response. I’ve been hearing non-natives say we shouldn’t celebrate or have a dinner of any kind on Thanksgiving because it’s offensive to Native Americans. So it’s really cool to read that some Native families still do a dinner because they’ve reclaimed it.

Takeaways

Native people themselves celebrate a form of Thanksgiving with their families over a meal. However, it is important to understand the true history of Thanksgiving and eliminate the “Pilgrim and Indian” narrative. Our community has found a Native-written educational resource that clearly outlines a kid-friendly way to teach yourselves and your children about Thanksgiving. Click on the link below.

American Indian Perspectives On Thanksgiving

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