How to take Thanksgiving off the menu this year

NationalEventsCommunity FoodIndigenous
Collaborator: Rachael Schuit
Published: 11/11/2023, 4:19 AM
Edited: 05/10/2024, 2:27 AM

(NATIONAL) As Thanksgiving approaches, many people across the United States are finalizing plans for their annual feast. 

But for Native American people, Thanksgiving can be a painful day. For blended families of both Native American and non-Native American people, it can be painful and confusing.

Thanksgiving became an official holiday following a declaration by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Since then, mainly one side of the story has been taught in schools for decades; one that paints a false picture of Native Americans being treated as equals, and leaves out the genocide of the Native American people at the hands of the colonists they helped survive

As more families embrace truth and understanding relating to Native American history, the idea of celebrating Thanksgiving leaves a bad taste in more mouths. Families opting out of that typical November celebration may find themselves with a holiday void, especially ones who have spent their whole lives celebrating it.

Those wanting an alternative to the premise of Thanksgiving this year can test drive a handful of alternatives that have been established over the last 50 years. 

For starters, Native American Heritage Month lasts all November but Native American Heritage Day officially takes place the day after Thanksgiving. Some families have opted not to celebrate this day on Black Friday, and celebrate it in place of Thanksgiving Day instead, much like how Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated instead of Columbus Day in October. 

In lieu of having a dinner imitating the so-called “first meal”, families can talk about Native American culture, their Native American ancestors, share oral history, and cook traditional Native American dishes. 

If you are unsure of your local Native American culture, the Native Lands App is a good place to start. 

Truthsgiving is another option, conceptualized by Christine Nobiss to undo romanticized notions of the holiday she says suppresses the Indigenous perspective.

Nobiss said step one is to start educating children with authentic U.S. history. 

“Considering that much of the Thanksgiving mythology is based on sharing food, it is ideal to discuss the importance of Indigenous first foods or food sovereignty with our children as well,” Nobiss wrote in an op-ed back in 2018. 

And for those who wish to fast rather than eat to honor the painful reality of Native American history, the National Day of Mourning has taken place every year on Thanksgiving since 1970. 

This annual event began after Wamsutta, an Aquinnah Wampanoag man, was not permitted to share his remarks at a Commonwealth of Massachusetts banquet celebrating the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims. After submitting his speech to the organizers, Wamsutta was told he could not deliver it because it was inflammatory.  

According to the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), many of the participants now fast from sundown the day before until the afternoon of the annual event.

If the idea of fasting while everyone else is feasting does not appeal to you, consider having a fall harvest dinner. Harvest dinners have increased in popularity over the years, focusing on eating seasonally to help support local farmers and strengthen our connection to our food and the land. 

Change is a difficult but necessary part of resolving cultural ignorance and insensitivity in America. After persevering through centuries of injustice,  Native Americans continue to experience disparity, discrimination, and inequity to this day. During Native American Heritage Month, changing one big meal can make a big difference. 


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