“Do Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?”
The Native American artist Sherman Alexie, who is Spokane-Coeur d’Alene, writes in his poem “Happy Holidays!” that he is asked that question a dozen times a year.
The implicit assumption is that indigenous people would never celebrate a holiday tied up with the arrival of white settlers and the myths of American foundation. The truth is more complicated.
Excerpted here are perspectives from four Native American writers
Sherman Alexie: A Story of Survival
- Do you feel like you’ve been able to make Thanksgiving your own?
- You take the holiday and make it yours. That doesn’t strip it of its original meaning or its context. There’s still the really sad holiday as well. It is a holiday that commemorates the beginning of the end for us, the death of a culture. I guess you could say Thanksgiving is also about survival, look how strong we are.
- How do you talk to your kids about the Thanksgiving story?
- You just tell them the truth, the long historical nature of it. They’re quite aware of what happened to us, the genocide and the way in which we survive and the way in which my wife and I have survived our individual Indian autobiographies.
I guess it’s trash talking: “Look, you tried to kill us all, and you couldn’t.” We’re still here, waving the turkey leg in the face of evil.
— Interview in Bitch Media
Winona LaDuke: Tired of Being Invisible
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.
— Essay in Inforum
Jacqueline Keeler: A Hidden Heart
I see, in the First Thanksgiving story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale than needs to be told. What did it hold? Bigotry, hatred, greed, self-righteousness? We have seen the evil that it caused in the 350 years since. Genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, racism.
Where is the hero who will destroy that heart of evil? I believe it must be each of us. Indeed, when I give thanks this Thursday and I cook my native food, I will be thinking of this hidden heart and how my ancestors survived the evil it caused.
Because if we can survive, with our ability to share and to give intact, then the evil and the good will that met that Thanksgiving Day in the land of the Wampanoag will have come full circle.
And the healing can begin.
— Essay from the Pacific News Service
Simon Moya-Smith: When We Commemorate
Native American Heritage Day falls on the one day each year when Americans ravenously indulge in material possessions — Black Friday. So is this an insult to Native Americans? Of course it is. How could it not be?
If Native American Heritage Day fell on Nov. 5, for example, then students would be in the classroom and teachers could offer lessons about the Native American today. But no. Instead, streams of bundled-up shoppers are standing in line to make their purchases, with the class the last thing on any kids’ minds as they sit watching TV.
If we’re going to choose a day for Native American Heritage Day when school is out, then how about Thanksgiving Day itself? Why not? That way we could learn about the real history of the holiday, and not the romanticized version we all hear about.
— Essay on CNN