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Let’s rip the band aid off, shall we? Thanksgiving Day serves as a stark reminder of the painful history rooted in the genocide, land theft, and ongoing assault on Indigenous people and our culture. This holiday is a mixed bag for many, me included. On one hand, by the time you read this, I will be on the reservation observing today as a National Day of Mourning, joining other Natives in solemn ceremony. Then, later this evening I’ll go home and “celebrate” this holiday with my family, some super Native and some not.
A prevailing trend of the 2010s and 20s is our society’s struggle to confront its own reflection. We may acknowledge our ancestors’ colossal missteps (yes, “our” – I am a ¼ vanilla myself), yet we often fall short of taking collective action to right the historical wrongs. Look, I get it. I *KNOW* you are not responsible for what your great, great, great, great grandfather did. But let’s keep it a buck – you probably benefit from it. And no – your great, great, great, great “Cherokee Princess” Grandma does not mean you get a pass.
For many in our industry who are ethnically ambiguous or pass as white, embracing heritage can be complicated. Typically, key word there, the closer one is to western beauty norms, the higher the chances of appealing to a larger client base (re: more money). For someone like me though, there is no option of “passing” and I’m grateful for that. I consider myself fortunate to openly embrace all my ethnicities including my Indigenous roots. Suffice to say, Josephine Baker would have loved me! I am grateful that I can crack jokes about “colonizers” and proudly express Native Pride without alienating my primarily white clientele. I appreciate those clients who genuinely desire to learn more, engaging with me by asking questions and seeking understanding. And I am especially appreciative of the clients who tip or dote on me with gifts for the education. Because asking a Native to educate you on Native issues is a specific kind of emotional labor. But I digress.
Here’s the deal, I want you to relish the mashed potatoes and gravy, alright? While you’re at it, engage in debate about dressing and stuffing. Go on “walks” with your cousins. Laugh until your belly hurts with the most absurd family debates like what’s the “Crank Dat” vs the “Yung Joc”. Don’t forget to document it all on TikTok – you know, for science. Enjoy Thursday Night Football or better yet, the Egg Bowl, as you doze off every 15 minutes, thanks to tryptophan in your veins. I hope the kids can charm grandma into giving them a sip of whisky (ah, the good times), or maybe grandpa can slip them a twenty-dollar bill. But let’s not overlook the profound truth and history this day holds. Let’s respect the fact that the ground beneath you is drenched in the blood of Indigenous peoples. People torn from their homelands, whose children were forced into boarding schools, and whose young boys had to cut off their hair (believe it or not, it still occurs today, ex: this Southwest Airlines pilot). That our ancestors were coerced into changing their religion and silenced in their native tongue. Remember this. And in the same breath, know that you can celebrate and honor us too.
Today, I will mourn AND I will celebrate. I will celebrate the slow fight for our land back and the relentless effort to hold the United States accountable for their 350+ broken treaties. I will celebrate the Indigenous people who serve this country, upholding warrior culture the best way we know how. I will appreciate the commitment to teach our languages to children and descendants, preserving our heritage. Above all, I will celebrate the tenacity, resiliency, and beauty of my people.
So how can you also honor Indigenous people today?
- Know the land you occupy. Yes – I said occupy. While there are treaties for the land, please remember that land was taken mostly by means of violence and all of these treaties have been broken thereby revoking access.
- Rethink your food and incorporate some new things. A lot of Thanksgiving staples have indigenous roots: corn, turkey, pumpkin. Maybe try wild rice. Wild rice is sacred to my particular nation as part of our prophecy is that we would “settle where food grows on water”. You can also make a Spirit Plate before eating. A spirit Plate is an offering made as a thank you for all we have and serves a prayer for the continuation of life, AND that all nations of the earth have enough food and water.
- Take in Some Native-Centered Entertainment. I’ll be the first to say that I picked up Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in 2021 and I’m only ¾ of the way through. It’s a HEAVY read. So, if reading isn’t your forte, you can always watch something. My favorites? Smoke Signals – I quote it all the time (“We’re Indians, remember. We barter!” and anytime someone asks me to sign a paper, “No way. You know how Indians feel about signing papers.”). Reservation Dogs on Hulu is great and a favorite of mine. Rutherford Falls and Mohawk Girls are also on my list. Look, there’s a lot of tv out there and it’s hard to get to it all right away.
- Donate to different Indigenous causes. The American Indian College Fund is a nonprofit organization that helps Native American students, providing them with support through scholarships and funding toward higher education. You can donated here. Also, Native Hope which works on various causes but takes major action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & People (MMIW/P). Native American women make up a significant portion of the missing and murdered cases. Not only is the murder rate ten times higher than the national average for women living on reservations but murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women. This is startling as Native people only make up 2% of the US overall population. You can donate here.
- Buy Native. While I could link to several different Native Shops that ship domestically and globally, I know if you’re reading this, you’re most likely quite adept at “googling” things.
- This is glaringly obvious… tip and support your favorite Indigenous creators.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list and frankly, it’s the bare minimum of what a person can do. There is still plenty that can be done and I hope that you are encouraged to do more research and take initiative to learn and give back.