These Native Americans Focus on Family Amid Dark Thanksgiving History

A transparent film of the painting, The First Thanksgiving 1621 by JLG Ferris, depicts natives and pilgrims coming together to share a meal.  (Washington Post Illustration; The Foundation Press, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio./Library of Congress)
A transparent film of the painting, The First Thanksgiving 1621 by JLG Ferris, depicts natives and pilgrims coming together to share a meal. (Washington Post Illustration; The Foundation Press, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio./Library of Congress)


For centuries, Thanksgiving has been touted as a time for friends and family to come together, with peace and gratitude in their hearts. But for Native Americans, celebrating the fall holidays isn’t so simple.

The short and sweet story told in schools describing the first Thanksgiving as a harmonious harvest celebration between Natives and Pilgrims “was a very romanticized, whitewashed education about Native people,” said Jordan Daniel, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux tribe. .

In reality, 1621 was not the first Thanksgiving celebration between the English and the Wampanoag people, said David Silverman, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in Native American history. The Wampanoags attempted to ally with the English for trade and maintain their political independence from another native group after an epidemic reduced their numbers.

“Tensions built up for years as the English population grew and began to dispossess, subjugate and evangelize the native peoples,” Silverman said. Finally, war broke out around 1675, and after the English won, they enslaved about 2,000 Native American prisoners of war, he added.

In 1970, the United American Indians of New England began commemorating Thanksgiving Day as a day of national mourning to honor their ancestors who experienced cultural genocide at the hands of European colonialists.

Native Americans as a whole say they are still fighting for what is rightfully theirs. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe still does not have control over all of their ancestral lands. The Supreme Court assessed the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which Congress passed in 1978 to remedy the practice of removing Indigenous children from their homes and sending them to boarding schools and non-Indigenous families.

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Pete Coser, Jr., educator and member of Muscogee Creek Nation also pointed to recent news that the Peabody Museum at Harvard University has apologized for its collection of hair samples taken from 700 Native American children and pledged to return them to families and tribal communities. “It shows a lot of different dynamics about this holiday and this particular year,” he said.

Despite the painful history of Thanksgiving, Indigenous peoples also see themselves as resilient. The fourth Thursday in November is a time for them to celebrate their roots and smash stereotypes, Coser says.

Pete Coser, Jr., who lives in Oklahoma, says Thanksgiving makes him feel like he’s in a real Hallmark movie.

As Coser’s family prepares their feast for the day, Coser’s aunts, sisters, and mother wonder who cooks the best dishes. Coser loves his older sister’s gooey pumpkin cake. And when the food is ready, several generations gather at the table to enjoy turkey, stuffing, a casserole of green beans and a potato salad. They end the day with games like Uno, Clue and – when it’s adults only – Cards Against Humanity.

Though Thanksgiving recalls a tumultuous history for Indigenous people, Coser doesn’t let tragedy define his Muscogee Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw lineage, or the Mashpee Wampanoag ancestry that his three sons and daughter also have on their mother’s side.

His surname originated in the Coosa region, which was one of the largest chiefdoms in the Southeast, straddling what is now Georgia and Alabama. And while the Spaniards who settled the area considered the tribal leaders, called mekko, chiefs, they are in fact kings, Coser said.

“What I tell my kids is ‘you come from royalty. You come from powerful people,” he said. “They have a place on this Earth that they can point to and say, ‘This is where I’m from. “”

Coser’s family is proud to be Native American, not just at Thanksgiving, but throughout their daily lives. They agree to be indigenous while being lacrosse players, musicians, educators, historians, psychologists and accountants.

“We are not people of the past,” Coser said.

Although Northern Virginia mom Jordan Daniel loved the way Thanksgiving brought her family together, she no longer celebrates Thanksgiving the way she once did.

Instead, she observes Truthsgiving through a 4-mile running event hosted by Rising Hearts, the grassroots organization she founded. Each year, Daniel has used the event as a way for Natives and non-Natives to raise awareness and funds for Native social issues.

Daniel first learned the true history of Thanksgiving from an article in Do Something, which motivated her to place more emphasis on “honouring the past, celebrating the present, and building a future” for Native people. like her.

She still gets together with her family on this day, but she plans to do some native cooking that goes beyond the Indian tacos, fried bread and wojapi her family has eaten in previous years. She wants to incorporate foods known in native culture like the three sisters: beans, corn and squash.

“At the heart of it all, it’s just about supporting and amplifying Indigenous voices in our communities and…having an open heart and mind,” she said. “It challenges what you thought growing up, but I think we collectively, as a community, do a lot of the work of unlearning and relearning.”

Josh Arce, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation living in Dallas, has always spent his Thanksgiving eating and fellowshipping with several generations of those he calls family, even if they are not related by blood: cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmothers.

“She may not be your grandmother, but she is an adoptive grandmother,” he said. “There’s this pluralism of families that takes place, and it’s naturally a bit like that in indigenous cultures.”

When Arce lived in Lawrence, Kansas, this family included Native students who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Arce plays dominoes and eats traditional dishes such as wild rice casserole, usually made with sausage or ground turkey and cream of mushroom soup, or dishes made with squash or pumpkin.

“We have this historic trauma, we have intergenerational trauma,” he said. But when Native Americans have fun on Thanksgiving, “those create good memories to replace those negative, traumatic memories.

Verna Volker, who is based in Minneapolis, lives away from her extended family in New Mexico, home of the Navajo Nation. Thanksgiving has often given Volker a reason to skim over and reconnect with them.

Last year, Thanksgiving was particularly sentimental for Volker as his mother died days before the holiday. Family members, even more than for a typical Thanksgiving, came from across the country for her mother’s funeral. The time they shared made family time even more important to Volker. Since Volker was a child, his family has weathered storms of trauma and grief as a group.

“Even in our mourning, we were together and we laughed,” Volker said.

Over the years, his family has feasted on a mixed menu of popular Thanksgiving dishes and Navajo culture-specific dishes, such as mutton stew and hominy stew.

Whether it’s Thanksgiving or in everyday life, she likes to see Aboriginal people in a positive light and strives to demystify stereotypes that portray Aboriginal people as drunks, overly sexual or rich on government money. casino.

“There’s so much negativity about our people,” she said. “I want to change that narrative.”

Nohemi M. Moore