What Does Thanksgiving Mean in 2016?

It was a scene that has probably taken place in millions of households in the United States- a young child runs into their house in late November with a strip of construction paper wrapped around his head and some feathers sticking out in the back. I was excited to see him- I had traveled hundreds of miles to visit him and his parents and other cherished friends not far from where we had all grown up as young children ourselves.

And I’m sure that “hat” as he called it was a fun day care craft activity- let’s pick colors, work on some basic sequencing skills, etc. But it gave me and his parents pause. This is 2016 and we’re still perpetuating stereotypes about what “Indians” look like and how they dressed back in the 1600s? The narrative that while Native Americans were essential to the survival of the original European colonizers/conquerors as they came woefully unprepared for New England winters and life in general (having spent winters in both Boston and London, I can vouch for the stark differences), Indians were a people that were uncivilized, savage, and lacking in sophistication appears to be very much alive.

Our (white European) culture was superior so it won out in the name of progress, right? Disregard the destruction of indigenous populations through calculated efforts to spread disease, force relocation, and crush culture through boarding schools and institutionalization. It’s no wonder that for generations the concerns of Native Americans and indigenous peoples in this country have been largely ignored by the rest of society.

How ironic that this toddler’s Indian headress sits on a table in front of a television that broadcasts footage from North Dakota, where hundreds of people from many indigenous tribes and their allies are trying to protect their land and water. And in the process are being subjected to pepper spray, water cannons, and concussion grenades, while our federal government seems complicit. Will my dear, dear friend’s delightful son grow up to understand that his ancestors, and mine, and so many others, built a nation by taking what was not theirs and then holding onto it for dear life when being asked to share it with others? This boiled-down history reads like the antithesis of a day care morals lesson.

These are uncomfortable thoughts for white people (and we are not fans of uncomfortable thoughts, but have a privilege to ignore many of them- a dubious combination), but these are uncomfortable times in our country. Thanksgiving is a time for gathering with loved ones and sharing a meal. It is a tradition many cherish and community is important, particularly for those who are being marginalized. But it is also a time to consider the implications of that event hundreds of years ago and how they impact the country today. It’s a time to recognized that this is messed up and not cool, to but it mildly. We need to consider what is the meaning of an American Thanksgiving in 2016.

From the NPR Code-Switch blog on Native American resistance.

Ways to donate to support the #NoDAPL movement: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe DAPL Fund; Sacred Stone Legal Defense Fund; Standing Rock Medical + Healer Council

Because sometimes you need a listicle on how white people can be better allies to people of color.

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