Thanksgiving time has always been a time for my family. More specifically, it's my Mom's birthday. And, just a few years ago, it became my nephew's birthday, too.
Each year, my Mom, the forever brilliant home cook, has made a thanksgiving meal that will kick your ass. She makes the best turkey, the best mashed potatoes, the best ... well, the best everything. And, because we can't have a family gathering JUST eating American food, my mom always makes a point to add pancit, lumpia, chicken adobo, and Filipino fruit salad.
Once I married into a Puerto Rican household, thanksgiving then added rice and beans and pork chops.
When my sister married her Southern husband, other food began to show up on the table: macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato, and yams (Alonso will get mad if I type in "yam-mallow" -- see what I did there?).
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was given really problematic messages about Thanksgiving. I read books about how the friendly Pilgrims and Indians all gathered together for a delicious and collaborative meal. I was given art projects like, "Bring in a brown paper bag so that we can cut it into a vest and decorate it like Native Americans did...." I remember making an Indian headdress as a table center piece one year.
And, now in 2017, I hesitate to say that things have gotten better.
Things have not.
One need only to be reminded of the protests at Standing Rock or, better yet, the decisions to even route the pipeline through Standing Rock (i.e., racism).
And, during Native Heritage Month, it is certainly not lost that we "celebrate" the murders of Native Americans while we fall asleep after eating a pound of turkey breast and watch football (some with Native imagery as mascots).
I am ashamed to say that I had to learn to be inclusive of Native Americans. And, this practice is only recent. I started attending a conference on higher education (ASHE) seven years ago, and this was the first time -- yes, the first time -- that I had witnessed non-Native people paying honor and respect to Native communities. Professor D-L Stewart, who was chairing the pre-conference at the time, made it zir commitment to make good on the call to "Indigenize ASHE", a call put forth by Native and Indigenous scholars to center the experiences of Native and Indigenous communities. Over the years, I began to understand what this meant. Ze started every session naming and honoring the tribal communities who lived on and with the land before all of the fancy hotels and conference rooms were there. Ze invited, included and centered Native scholars who began our conference and who presented scholarly and practical sessions on the experiences of Native and Indigenous communities.
That was my first introduction to what it meant -- and the great efforts it took -- to center Native voices.
Over the years, I have committed to reminding myself and others of Native communities. As I returned to my 7th conference, I followed the lead of Dr. Stewart and began each of my sessions naming the tribal communities of the land. And, I acknowledged the ways in which Native communities continue to be underserved and oppressed in our current policies and programs.
We are just weeks away from our long weekend break, and folks are already looking forward to the rest. I recently sent out a reminder of what it means when we wish each other a "Happy Thanksgiving." You are welcome to include this in any of your communication, if you'd like, or simply adopt some of these practices in your own home and with your families.
Friends, I am calling on you to center the experiences of Indigenous communities and people of this land, every day, but particularly during this long weekend in November.
As we feel the rush towards the Thanksgiving break (which includes lots of great projects), it's important to remember that not all people think of Thanksgiving in the same celebratory way. For indigenous communities, Thanksgiving is not a celebration but a stark reminder of the violence perpetuated on Native and Indigenous people in the interest of White colonialism.
Last year, this powerful video of three Indigenous girls was released as a reminder. While possibly too mature for our younger audience, this is a great video for adults as we remember the impact of this time of year.
Here are ways in which we can honor, remember and respect Indigenous and Native peoples during this time:
- When "giving thanks" at your meal, include mention and respect of Native People and Indigenous communities. For example, give thanks for family, friends, and good health as we also remember how those were taken away from Native and Indigenous communities who continue to be underserved in our national and local policies and programs today.
- Make a donation to an organization led by Native American leadership. Some may include the National Indian Education Association and the National Indian Health Board as well as local organizations such as the North American Indian Association of Boston.
- Participate in the National Day of Mourning March in Plymouth on November 23 at noon. If you do not identify as Native or Indigenous, please read the information very carefully. This is an event that centers the voices, experiences, and community of Native and Indigenous people. If you attend as an ally, it is an expectation that you are there in support of Native people and will respect the directions of Native people. You'll read about how to engage as an ally and what must occur for Native voices to be centered on that day.
- Choose a book to read during the week with your family, and make sure you check out the list of approved books here.
While many of us might be wishing each other "Happy Thanksgiving" in the upcoming weeks, please remember that this is a national day of mourning for many Native and Indigenous communities who, by all counts, did not welcome settlers and White colonials to their land.