In many cultures including those indigenous to the land we live on, the harvest season is a traditional time of gratitude.
Here in the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday has a more troubled history. In recognition of Native American Heritage month, the Free Library would like to honor this truth, as well as the contemporary Day of Mourning practiced in lieu of Thanksgiving by some Indigenous people and tribes.
In my own household of mixed Indigenous, Latine, and settler ancestry, we try for a best-of-both-worlds approach to a complex heritage. We make heaps of mashed potatoes with red chile sauce to go on top--trust me, it's good--and we might even spring for a seasonal order of tamales! We acknowledge the original inhabitants and caretakers of the land we’re on. For us, this day is an occasion for thoughtful and conscious celebration full of family, home-cooked favorites, and yes, thankfulness–for our loved ones and ancestors, for all we’ve made it through, all that we have now, and the unknown gifts the future holds. It necessarily includes an honest awareness of the past.
If you are interested in a more conscious Thanksgiving celebration, one place to begin is with a land acknowledgement. This can be a powerful way to open a meal. You might also take note of foods you’re eating that come from Indigenous land or traditions, such as pumpkin, turkey, and cranberry sauce, or those of African American origins like mac and cheese and sweet potato pie. Maybe the foods of more recent immigrant cultures are a part of your tradition and heritage, as well! Recognizing the history behind our present day practices makes them all the more meaningful.
You may wish to talk openly with your loved ones about the false colonial narrative of Thanksgiving many of us were taught to believe in school. If you do talk about it with younger family members, encourage them to ask questions to guide the scope of your discussion, and tailor your answers to their maturity level. Here are some helpful tips for difficult subjects.
Perhaps, Thanksgiving offers a way forward, toward a more sustainable future for us and other beings sharing this planet, as writer Mary Annette Pember (Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe) suggests. Coming together with gratitude and awareness to share delicious food has to be a good place to start.
If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate Native American Heritage Month with the Free Library, check out some of these new titles from award-winning Indigenous authors and illustrators in our catalog, or try a recipe from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen cookbook.
How do you celebrate? What’s your favorite holiday recipe? Let us know in the comments below! Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy holiday season from all of us at Youth Services.