Rethinking a day for gratitude
I just gave goodbye kisses to my kids and partner and sent them on their way to enjoy a family Thanksgiving dinner. Sitting here, I think of some of various responses I’ve gotten since I decided I was no longer going to participate in any Thanksgiving activities.
More discussion in my Teaching Kids to Take a Stand post.
Some people are pretty confused about this. They say, “what is wrong with a day for gratitude?” Others, who know a little bit of history say “Yeah, a lot of bad stuff happened. But I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving because of that stuff. I celebrate it as a day to give thanks, as a way to honor Native Americans. Don’t you know that giving thanks is a Native tradition?”
There’s a lot to unpack here, it’s is difficult for me to even know where to start.
But as a parent who cares about social justice issues, one of the big challenges I face is intervening when historic lies are regurgitated, over and over. And as a parent who cares about social justice issues, you have this same challenge.
And so I write this for you. For you who have little ones, who are rethinking your stance on Thanksgiving, and who have families who are less than understanding. I hope to give you some information that can help you explain your stance but also so that you can give your kids a more accurate historic account, whether you share it now or when they’re older.
Let’s start with the idea that anything about Thanksgiving is an honor to Native Americans. I ask this, “Do they feel honored?”
And really this cuts to the heart of the issue, because it doesn’t matter how much we feel we are honoring people if they in fact do not feel honored. In contrast, the United American Indians of New England say that “Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture” (source) and since 1970 have been protesting Thanksgiving by declaring it a National Day of Mourning. This Day of Mourning has been adopted by indigenous communities all over the continent.
Why a day of mourning, some may ask. Didn’t pilgrims and indigenous families come together and enjoy a bountiful feast?
Watch these videos.
“Ok, ok” some may say, “so let’s reinvent Thanksgiving. Let’s acknowledge the historical and continuing genocide, but maybe we can just have a day simply for gratitude. Let’s make it a day that all people, including indigenous communities, can happily participate in. Wouldn’t this be modelled after indigenous traditions?”
I’m not going to speak for any indigenous community and explain the concept of gratitude from any indigenous culture. Not only would that not be appropriate in itself, but also I just don’t know because I didn’t grow up in a Native American culture.
The little I know is this: gratitude is infused into the daily lives, with everyday activities, for many (or all? I don’t know….) Native American cultures. To take a concept and make a holiday of once a year giving thanks is essentially another example of colonization.
To be clear, the act of gratitude in itself is not the problem. Give thanks. Have gratitude. It’s a great every day practice.
But to take an indigenous concept and repackage it for the benefit of white people is nothing short of appropriation. So when people claim that it is ok to celebrate thanksgiving as a day of giving thanks, in honor of Native traditions, what they are really doing is participating in the continuing oppression of Native Americans.
If you don’t participate in Thanksgiving, what are some of the responses you’ve received from family or friends? And how do you respond to them?