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Decolonizing Thanksgiving

As November draws to a close, it is an appropriate moment to take a mental pause. 2020 has felt like a never-ending rush of news, emotion, and information, but as we come into the holiday season, we are all reminded to slow our pace and take life more steadily. The holidays in America can be associated with ease, warm feelings of home, and loved ones. However, there are complexities that lie beneath the common narrative. Thanksgiving is no exception, especially because the true history of the holiday is not widespread knowledge. As someone raised in the American school system, I have experienced firsthand the lack of information we are given around Thanksgiving. America’s history of violent treatment of Indigenous American communities is almost entirely erased from textbooks and rarely discussed in college classrooms.


Indigenous American communities existed on this land far before any colonizers did. The colonization of Indigenous land and the American government’s role in the disruption and displacement of Indigenous American communities has lasting effects that are very apparent today. It is important that we educate ourselves on the true history of the land we inhabit, and as a community, implement strategic methods of healing and justice. We all have much to learn in this deep decolonizing work, and as we move into the week I want to highlight ways that the Indigenous American community can be uplifted and supported, especially in the Richmond area (The Richmond Indigenous Society has an Amazon wishlist, linked below, that is especially encouraged to engage with for support).


One of the primary ways we can begin decolonization work is acknowledging the land we are on. This map allows you to view the names and land areas of various Indigenous nations. Richmond is located on the land of the Powhatan nation.

Our Home on Native Land


Another foundational element of decolonization work is understanding the truth of our collective history. Below are links with more information on Thanksgiving specifically; however, the larger narrative of American history holds many untold Indigenous stories as well. I have linked a book that explores general American history from the perspective of Indigenous People’s.

The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue

The true story behind Thanksgiving

Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong

Native Americans want to decolonize Thanksgiving with native foods and a proper history lesson

BUY: An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States


We can also work to decolonize by uplifting Indigenous people’s voices. Below are several articles and blogs that interview members of Indigenous nations on various topics.

Thanksgiving for Native Americans: Four Voices on a Complicated Holiday

Indigenous Perspective of Thanksgiving Resources

An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses

A Thanksgiving Message from Seven Amazing Native Americans

FIVE NATIVE AMERICAN AUTHORS TO READ THIS THANKSGIVING BREAK


Like any group, Indigenous people are not a monolith, the treatment of Indigenous groups in this country has created very specific concerns and structural problems for Indigenous nations. Below is a link to learn more about important issues that Indigenous populations face today.

5 Important Issues That Affect Native Americans Today


Finally, here is a list of Indigenous groups, organizations, and businesses to learn more about their missions, monetary redistribution, and general support:

Tribal Organizations

First Nations Development Institute

Here's How You Can Support the Indigenous American Community This Thanksgiving

Celebrating Indigenous Culture in the Richmond area

Richmond Indigenous Society + their wishlist

7 Indigenous businesses you can support



It is important to remember that this work is not just about Thanksgiving, but the way we navigate the world and the land we live on. To close, I would like to leave us with a specific voice that was profiled in this article as a reminder to all of us about the importance of holding this decolonization work as an ongoing practice. These issues always exist, and always deserve our time and attention, which Winona LaDuke poignantly says in this quote:




There is this magical made-up time between Columbus Day (or Indigenous People’s Day for the enlightened) and Thanksgiving, where white Americans think about native people. That’s sort of our window.
November is Native American Heritage Month. Before that, of course, is Halloween. Until about three years ago, one of the most popular Halloween costumes was Pocahontas. People know nothing about us, but they like to dress up like us or have us as a mascot.
We are invisible. Take it from me. I travel a lot, and often ask this question: Can you name 10 indigenous nations? Often, no one can name us. The most common nations named are Lakota, Cherokee, Navajo, Cheyenne and Blackfeet — mostly native people from western movies. This is the problem with history. If you make the victim disappear, there is no crime. And we just disappeared. When I travel, I get this feeling someone has seen a unicorn in the airport.



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