Rethinking Thanksgiving 2021

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

For the past few years, we have shared some thoughts and resources on why we should rethink Thanksgiving (and how we choose to celebrate it, or not). This year, we have another opportunity to do just that: rethink what, how, and why we choose to celebrate this holiday. For many people, Thanksgiving 2021 will be the first time that they’ll have a chance to gather with family members in over a year, now that everyone has been vaccinated. For others, this is an opportunity to reclaim some sense of community and togetherness. But for some of us, Thanksgiving is a reminder of our country’s violent history and present ongoing struggles. One way to approach the holiday this year is to commit to educating yourself and others about the history of Thanksgiving. We’ve come up with a few tips that will hopefully help you feel empowered and knowledgeable as you prep to eat turkey and enter into some deep discussions at the dinner table. 

Things to keep on your “Plate”

When thinking about Thanksgiving, for a lot of us, our first thought is that of food, of course. Well, this upcoming season, we’d like to add some “food for thought” on your plate. Here are three tips for how you and your circle of friends and family can celebrate the holiday in a more equitable way:

Challenge the foundational myths behind Thanksgiving

Although nationally commercialized as a “family-led” holiday, the actual roots of Thanksgiving are more complex and violent. Educators tend to agree that in 1621, colonists and members of the Wampanoag tribe shared some kind of ‘feast’, which is generally viewed by the public as one of the very first Thanksgiving celebrations recorded. However, while your memories of learning about the first Thanksgiving in school might include drawing turkeys and pilgrim hats, the reality is a bit different. While there was likely some kind of gathering or dinner, Metacom, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe at that time, was himself violently killed in later years. In 1676, he was beheaded, drawn and quartered, and his killers mounted his head on a pole in Plymouth, MA for 25 years following his death. 

Some historians have noted that our modern-day Thanksgiving may in fact be a combination of this 1621 event, and a commemoration of a violent attack in 1637 in modern day Connecticut. In 1637, Dutch and English mercenaries massacred more than 700 members of the Pequot tribe as they gathered together for their annual Green Corn Festival. After this horrific massacre, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared that this should be a “Day of Thanksgiving”, to commemorate “subduing the Pequots.” For the next 100 years, days of thanksgiving were called to honor routine massacres. Even the date of the holiday has been picked not to commemorate any specific event, but is designed to allow for an extended holiday shopping season. 

If any of this is surprising to you, consider why that might be? What version of the facts are you accustomed to accepting? It’s said that history is written by the victors. We must remember that there is a lot that has been deliberately left out, glossed over, rewritten, or even simply forgotten, about our past. This is the perfect time to do some of your own research and dig a little deeper.

Know which land you are on — Land Acknowledgements

Colonialism refers to the practice of control. Essentially, it describes the relationship between a more powerful invading force, and a less powerful indigenous population. One way that colonial forces exert control is through naming. Prior to colonization, indigenous people in the present-day United States had their own names for physical places. Each place had significant meaning, much of which has been lost to us now. Your school, the mall, your home, and your places of worship all sit upon occupied Indigenous land. 

As a company, SGO utilizes “land acknowledgements” as a common practice to bring forth awareness and names of the prior and current inhabitants of the land we sit on. It is imperative that we understand and realize that all of this is still Indigenous territory. Maybe this Thanksgiving you can find out if those nations, tribes, or Indigenous peoples are still in your area. If not, find out why. Were they forcefully relocated or pushed out in another way? Are they currently fighting for federal recognition? We can support local Indigenous struggles from wherever we are and learn cultural protocols (behaviors used to show respect) for being in their territories. This is a great time to look up your own specific location and see who are the original inhabitants. One of the websites we recommend is Native Land. You can type in your location and it will give you information about the traditional name of the land you live, work and play on. If you are from or currently living in a country that does not have displaced, indigenous populations, take this opportunity to reflect on the impact of colonization throughout our world.

Challenge cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation is a continuation of genocide and land theft because settlers steal what does not belong to them, as if it is rightfully theirs. We witness cultural appropriation today through social media and other outlets; it is our responsibility to name it, address it, and correct it when we see appropriation in action. Appropriation can be found in: the names of sports mascots and schools, Thanksgiving pageants, homework assignments that ask students to ‘create something Native,’ Halloween costumes, etc. Most often, these parodies depict settlers or pilgrims as either victims of native violence, or saviors converting natives from “savages” to “civilized people.” 

As you are interacting with friends and family this holiday season, challenge yourself and others to speak up when you see inappropriate themes or associations that are taking place around you. We developed our PAUSE Framework to address unconscious bias, but it can be easily adapted to these types of moments as well. And if all else fails, call upon the power of Adele to bring us all together this winter season.

Learn more about the SGO team and our diversity, equity, and inclusion training offerings.