How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Respectfully (because it’s 2019 ffs)

Thanksgiving marks somewhere around the beginning of the horrendous massacres of the Indigenous Peoples of North America. And yet, as we continue to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s all too easy for us to get caught up in the overindulgence of it all & end up forgetting the important history of this day. I felt like I was hit by a truck this year when I remembered all too late the true origins of this holiday & that I hadn’t even thought about it one bit until the week of. I literally have cousins who live on a Reservation, so this forgetfulness was particularly shameful for me. (Last year I was literally giving birth, so I’m letting myself off the hook for that one). I quickly racked my brain for ways I can create space for respectful remembrance this Thursday. I hope you’ll join me!

1. Fast before you indulge
Consider a day or meal of fasting the day before Thanksgiving to honor the history of American Indians. As I’m currently breastfeeding, I don’t fast for more than one meal, but I’ll be mentally “fasting” as well as skipping one meal this Wednesday in an effort to show my solidarity. Maybe if we all do this, we’ll be more mindful of our privilege & won’t be so prone to overindulge.

2. Kindly correct your family members if they say something offensive
I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt & assume your relatives are simply unaware of the ways their words can cause insult. In our response, we shouldn’t humiliate others because they’re ignorant, instead we should pull them aside & gently let them know the culturally appropriate way to refer to something. Most of the time, they really just don’t understand. So let’s help them to.

3. Teach your children the (age-appropriate) true story of Thanksgiving.
Fingers crossed that schools today are teaching our children the actual, historical truth, but it’s always best to follow up with your own lesson as well. For young children, focus on teaching them how incredible and diverse Native American culture is. You should leave out the gory details until they’re older, but using small examples they can relate to of how Native Americans were persecuted will help them learn that the Pilgrims are not “heroes” like we all grew up believing. But don’t just focus on persecution, teach them about the incredibly rich history and often overlooked achievements of Indigenous People today. Show them how to appreciate it without appropriating it.

4. Decorate thoughtfully
Avoid problematic & inaccurate depictions of Native Americans. (Why do stores still do this??) And please, for the LOVE OF GOD, do not let your children make headdresses. Just… no. There are SO many cute kid crafts out there that don’t involve butchering & belittling someone else’s culture.

5. Consider a moment of silence during your toast or prayer to honor the lives lost
For most non-Native Americans today, the focus of Thanksgiving is simply on gathering together to eat good food & trying to survive the first family event of the holiday season. (If you know how to do this, PLEASE tell me. Is it wine? It’s probably wine. I’m gonna go get some wine.) But for many American Indians, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning as they reflect on their history. The literal least we can do is take a moment to remember & mourn with them. It doesn’t have to be a big flashy thing with the wailing & the gnashing of teeth & the tearing of clothes, (I mean, it can be if you’re into that sort of Catholic self-loathing thing) but a simple yet thoughtful explanation & a few moments of respectful silence will be enough to get your Aunt Carol thinking.

And please remember, we shouldn’t feel guilty for being grateful. In fact, it honors others when we truly appreciate what we have. It doesn’t make us “more woke” to reject the holiday outright. Think about it this way, things will never truly change if everyone who cares just walks away! That will only serve to leave our families confused & hurt. As people with privilege, we need to use that privilege to educate others & give the oppressed a platform. And as always, we should strive to do so with love & kindness.

This is my short & imperfect attempt to try to be more thoughtful of Native Americans this Thursday (& every other day, really). I hope this has been thought provoking for you! Tell me, what are some ways you try to be mindful of our history on Thanksgiving?

xx Katelyn


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