Rethinking Thanksgiving 2023

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Hands reach out to share food on a table.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Thanksgiving is this week in the United States. For the past few years, we’ve shared some resources and thoughts on why we should rethink Thanksgiving. This year, we revisit our annual opportunity to rethink what, how, and why we choose to celebrate this holiday season. 

I grew up celebrating Thanksgiving as a time to gather together with family and friends. As a young child, I was taught that pilgrims and Indians gathered together to share a meal on the ‘first Thanksgiving.’ There were pictures of smiling people and tables full of food. Thanksgiving meant outlining my hand on construction paper and drawing a turkey head, eating lots of delicious food, sharing gratitude, and having a few days off from school. It was only much later in my life that I started interrogating the stories I had been taught and began my process of education and unlearning. 

In DEI work, I talk a lot about context and historical grounding. And I also talk about multiple truths and how culture and practices can shift over time. Over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that I can acknowledge the things in my life that I am grateful for: my family, my pets, my friends, my health, art and music, and more… and I can also acknowledge and hold space for the terrible origins of this holiday, and how it ties into our oft-overlooked or rewritten history of genocide and erasure of Native and Indigenous peoples here in the States. I’m particularly mindful this year that while I have the privilege and luxury to gather with my loved ones in a warm and safe place, we are still dealing with the reality that genocides are actively occurring in places like Gaza and the Congo.

What I plan to do this Thanksgiving is to incorporate these multiple truths into my holiday practices. I live, and will be gathering, on indigenous land. I will hold space for historical and present violence and harm. I will focus on incorporating indigenous foods into my culinary practice. And I’ll be donating to Native-led and focused organizations (for me here in Western Massachusetts, I’ve chosen the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness). Is this a perfect solution? No, but DEI and justice work is not meant to be perfect. The important aspect I’ll be keeping top of mind is acknowledging the complexity of this day while holding space open to celebrate the beautiful ways in which we can come together.