I often think about the concept of learning from my mistakes. We learn the most by making mistakes. In photography I purposely look for images that will be difficult to capture because of lighting, contrast, depth of field, or complex composition. Although the resulting photo is probably not going to be exactly what I was hoping for, I will see what did turn out right, or not, and can apply that information in the future for similar images.
One of the first principles of beginning to engage with people who have different beliefs, customs and experiences than you do is to know you will make mistakes along the way.
On the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, we spent the night inside a large building at the Boone Country Fairground. It was pouring rain outside. This photo was at dinner that evening. Some buffalo was served. I remarked that it would have been nice if the real Thanksgiving dinner would have been like this, with friends (some newly made) sharing a meal.
The calm response was, “we call it Thanks-taking“.
I learned from that mistake. Getting embarrassed is often part of the learning process (as in this case). Don’t let that make you timid about taking risks. I think of this as “if you’re getting embarrassed, you’re doing something right”.
The Thanksgiving holiday is an opportunity for White people to do some decolonizing for themselves. My friend Christine Nobiss, MA (Religious Studies), Plains Cree/Saulteaux of the George Gordon First Nation and Decolonizer with Seeding Sovereignty, explains why she organized Truthsgiving in resistance to Thanksgiving. The title of her article is Thanksgiving Promotes Whitewashed History, So I Organized Truthsgiving Instead.
There are many settler colonial mythologies about Native Americans. These widely held but false beliefs are rooted in deeply entrenched discriminatory attitudes and behaviors that are perpetuated by institutionalized racism. One of the most celebrated mythologies is the holiday of Thanksgiving, which is believed, since 1621, to be a mutually sanctioned gathering of “Indians” and Pilgrims. The truth is far from the mythos of popular imagination. The real story is one where settler vigilantes unyieldingly pushed themselves into Native American homelands, and forced an uneasy gathering upon the locals.
In the words of Wamsutta Frank James, Wampanoag, “the Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors, and stolen their corn, wheat, and beans.” These words came from his 1970 Thanksgiving Day speech, which he wrote for the annual celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims held every year in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, this speech was never presented; the organizers of the celebration reportedly asked to see his speech ahead of time, according to James’ obituary in the Boston Globe, and allegedly asked him to rewrite it on the basis that his words were not aligned with the popular mythology. He instead declared Thanksgiving a National Day of Mourning.Thanksgiving Promotes Whitewashed History, So I Organized Truthsgiving Instead by Christine Nobiss, Bustle, Nov 16, 2018.
It’s past time to honor the Indigenous resistance, tell our story as it really happened, and undo romanticized notions of the holiday that have long suppressed our perspective. As an Indigenous decolonizer, I call this time of year the Season of Resistance. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I ask you to please take the time to educate your peers about Thanksgiving’s real history; to support Native people as they resist the narrative of the holiday; and to organize or host alternatives to this holiday.
An essential part of decolonizing Thanksgiving is to start educating our children with the authentic history of this country. A book that re-examines basic “truths” about Thanksgiving in an educational context is Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Considering that much of the Thanksgiving mythology is based on sharing food, it is ideal to discuss the importance of Indigenous first foods or food sovereignty with our children as well. The book Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition discusses the traditional process of growing and harvesting corn, de-commercializing what we eat, and promoting culturally appropriate foods and agricultural systems of North America. Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in Schoolsis a quick read where more resources are listed; it even has sample letters that can be sent to your children’s school concerning problematic Thanksgiving activities.
Generations of American values are responsible for institutionalizing the Thanksgiving mythology, but ultimately, change can occur as individuals awaken to the reality that their Thanksgiving meals celebrate a violent, whitewashed history, and begin the process of truth-telling, healing and reconciliation.