“Should America Continue to Celebrate Thanksgiving?”
I am a proud member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. My early memories of Thanksgiving are akin to those of most Americans–meat-and-potatoes dishes inspired by Eurocentric 1960s-era cookbooks.
For many Americans, the image of Thanksgiving is one of supposed unity: the gathering of “Pilgrims and Indians” in a harmonious feast. But this version obscures the harsh truth, one steeped in colonialism, violence, and misrepresentation. By exploring the Indigenous perspective on Thanksgiving, we can not only discern some of the nuances of decolonization but gain a deeper understanding of American history.
The sanitized version of Thanksgiving neglects to mention the violence, land theft, and subsequent decimation of Indigenous populations. Needless to say, this causes tremendous distress to those of us who are still reeling from the trauma of these events to our communities.
Thanksgiving’s roots are intertwined with colonial aggression. One of the first documented “Thanksgivings” came in 1637, after the colonists celebrated their massacre of an entire Pequot village.
I do not think we need to end Thanksgiving. But we do need to decolonize it. That means centering the Indigenous perspective and challenging the colonial narratives around the holiday (and every other day on the calendar). By reclaiming authentic histories and practices, decolonization seeks to honor Indigenous values, identities, and knowledge. This approach is one of constructive evolution: In decolonizing Thanksgiving, we acknowledge this painful past while reimagining our lives in a more truthful manner.
The journey to decolonize Thanksgiving is also an opportunity for a broader movement to decenter colonial perspectives around the world…. Decolonization in this context would mean resisting the dominance of colonial influences globally and reclaiming Indigenous knowledge, values, and, of course, foodways.
The Western colonial diet has almost completely ignored the nutritional and culinary diversity of North America, just as other Indigenous cultural practices have been decimated by Eurocentric forces. At our restaurant, Owamni, and in tribal communities everywhere, food is a celebration of history, culture, and environmental stewardship. When we strip away the ills of colonization, we demand the shared human right of access to healthy, culturally significant, and regionally appropriate foods.
I bet your restaurant is a big hit. It sounds really fun.
It’s not just a meal — it’s a lecture.
These values can be applied not only during Thanksgiving but every day of our lives, and would drastically change the way we all live on this planet. Indigenous values shift the focus toward acknowledging our shared human experiences and rights, one of which is the profound relationship between humans and food–and not just any food, but our own traditional foods, stewarded in a way that is healthy for our bodies, minds, and souls.
…A decolonized Thanksgiving could transform a holiday marred by historical amnesia into a celebration of genuine gratitude, unity, and recognition of our rich Indigenous heritage. It would offer a clearer lens through which to see the entire world.
Let us drop food and knowledge, not bombs.
So I’m going to say something that is considered racially rude, but I’m sick of the bullshit.
Conquest without morality was the rule of all peoples and nations until a couple of hundred years ago. Only in the very recent past has morality become a major consideration in warfare.
And the people most responsible for adding moral considerations to the law of conquest were… Europeans.
People pushing the Victim Narrative pretend that their ancestors were morally superior to their conquerors. In fact, they were not. Their ancestors conquered everyone they could conquer. The Commanche Empire conquered other Indian tribes, which is why Indian tribes allied with American government to fight the Commanches.
If Indians had advanced shipbuilding, navigation, and steel-working, they would have conquered Europe.
Native Americans’ ancestors did not refuse to do this because they were more moral. They didn’t do it because they simply couldn’t do it. They were not superior in morality; they were simply inferior in technology.
And all of this endless bullshit whining about generations-old conquests is just a nasty cope.
You’ve heard of “Victor’s Justice,” in which the winner of a war can vindictively set the terms for peace…? Well we live now in an age of Loser’s Justice, when the losers of the war can, somehow, endlessly torment the great-great-great-granchildren of the winners of their ancestors having won in war.
And we’re sick of it, and we’re done with it. We never point this out, because we don’t want to upset people who are clearly insecure about their ancestors’ failures. Who wants to pick on the fat kid?
But by not shutting this bullshit down, we have invited endless demands on us. Endless reparations and payoffs, endless “land acknowledgements,” endless affirmative action programs, endless demands for apologies (which are endlessly offered, and endlessly rejected as insufficient), endless demands we change our lives to “honor” people we don’t even fucking know, endless demands we “center” other people and endlessly think about what we owe complete fucking strangers.