Do We Still Say, “Happy Thanksgiving”?
As we enter the Holiday season we have a lot to navigate. How do we honor traditions, integrate new knowledge, and NOT end up being performative? Is there a way to span generations while “woke”.
As a country, the United States has traditionally celebrated Thanksgiving the second to last Thursday of November. This is a time when banks, schools, and most businesses close. We see the décor change in the stores in October and we start to see cornucopias, animated turkeys, and crafts for kids based on a fable we all learned in History class. The myth of Thanksgiving is decades old and tells the tale of when Native Americans shared a meal with their colonizing brethren, the Pilgrims. The “theme” behind the story is friendship, unity, and gratitude. From the school plays, to pilgrim hats and “Indian” headdresses we make in school, we start the erasure of the true atrocities that faced Indigenous Americans by their colonizers. We want to fall back on a theme that is not steeped in reality but white puritan comfort. We also fear discussing the history connected to this “Holiday” because it might lump us in a category of SJW, “woke”, or Hotep. By ignoring, and worse, uplifting or celebrating the fictional version of Thanksgiving we participate in erasure and engage in causing pervasive harm to Indigenous Americans.
The first thing to do is STOP! Don’t send the email, don’t post on your social media, and don’t spread the folklore on to others
If this day holds special meaning for you and your family, that is not tied to the false narrative we all learned, you can move into a celebration of those traditions and memories. For many folks, they have had to reclaim Holidays and special dates in their lives from their origin, and reframe how and what they celebrate. So how do you do that, and not fall into a trope or become a meme?!?!
Step 1: Understand your why for changing the Holiday. If you are doing this because you have a desire to be more inclusive and equitable than center that. If you are a part of an organization, you should adhere to your equity statements, mission statements, and charter of respect. Do not do a land acknowledgement one day, and the next send a “Happy Thanksgiving” email, erasing the Indigenous Americans that may work for your company or with your company. Move past the fear of being called out for trying to inclusive and just, be inclusive.
Step 2: Ground your celebration in good memories and traditions: a family reunion during this time, songs that you sing like
U name it Challenge - Martin Edition, special food and games you play, or a vacation you always take.
Step 3: Share your new greetings with folks! Post the photos of your gathering of friends and families. Wish people well as they travel, and decide to will share about the adjustment you made. To steer clear of being performative, do not make the change about you. If you chose to move away from the myth of Thanksgiving, center those who those who were harmed. For example, “This year we are celebrating inclusion by focusing on family and friends and not uplifting harmful narratives. Have a wonderful long weekend”.
Step 4: Don’t shame but create boundaries and expectations. When crossing generations, it may be hard to explain a shift in dialogue. Sometimes we cling to the things of the past because they connect us to family we have lost, or times where we were safe and comfortable. When conversing with family who are not ready to move on from the legends of old, focus on the why. You don’t have to have “Native American friends”, in order to be inclusive and thoughtful. You can say things like, “I want to teach the kids about all the wonderful things we do as a family during November, and not continue to spread a false narrative about
history”. Just like we are aware that there are people who do not celebrate the same Holidays that we do, we can hold this gathering in remembrance of those who lost their lives while this country was being formed, and we honor them by discontinuing practices that erase their existence and pain, and hold up the values that we wanted to learn from the mythology.
Be inclusive, honor and remember Indigenous Americans, celebrate the meaning behind the traditions and gathering without spreading the pain.
Check out these Resources when researching more about Indigenous Americans. National Congress of American Indians: https://www.ncai.org/about-tribes?fbclid=IwAR2F-8wOUO9UNwBtn1Y_hf0kqGZaeI0gz5GT2va8Xt76Np4XWC-yssDUEiY
National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360
Teaching Native American Histories https://teachnativehistories.umass.edu/
Birchbark Books https://birchbarkbooks.com/