You may be busily planning your Thanksgiving dinner, but as the world becomes more inclusive and culturally aware, it might feel increasingly uncomfortable to celebrate. It’s challenging to embrace today’s traditions when you’ve learned about how the holiday erases the history of Indigenous people.
But no matter how much you want to show respect and avoid cultural appropriation, you don’t have to cancel your November family gathering. Instead, learn how to respect Indigenous history during Thanksgiving to find a balance between your personal traditions and the truth behind the holiday.
1. Talk about the holiday’s real history
Unfortunately, many of us grew up learning the same simplified, colonized lesson about Thanksgiving in grade school. We were taught that the Pilgrims arrived in North America in the early 1600s to escape religious persecution. When they landed, the local Wampanoag people supposedly shared bounty from their harvest and joined them in the first Thanksgiving meal.
Historians agree that most of this story is untrue, which is the first place people should start when they want to respect Indigenous history during Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims actually left Holland to make money and likely didn’t eat with the Wampanoag people. Instead, they may have made minimal diplomatic efforts towards the native tribes before contacting the English and selling Tisquantum—known now as Squanto—as a slave in 1614.
Thanksgiving’s true history isn’t as peaceful as people think, so it’s important to talk about this reality with your family, no matter your kids’ ages. Children today should be brought up learning the truth about America’s colonial past and what Indigenous people had to endure, not being fed fairy tales that erase the violence and land appropriation that really occurred. Thanksgiving today can still be a peaceful time to reflect on gratitude, equality and inclusion—but to make that genuine, we need to acknowledge the false history associated with it.
2. Discuss ongoing Indigenous movements
People often discuss Indigenous tribes during Thanksgiving as if they don’t exist anymore, but that’s not true. Indigenous people in America have been—and still are—involved in so many ongoing battles for legal protections, recognition, and equal rights. Modern movements relate directly to Indigenous history because they’re not new. Indigenous tribes have dealt with crimes like violence against women, systemic racism, and forced assimilation since Europeans invaded their land. That’s a modern issue we need to recognize, talk about, and work to stop together.
3. Learn from Indigenous voices
There are many Indigenous leaders ready to teach people about their histories and modern challenges. Take the guesswork out of finding fact-based information by learning from them. There are many books for young people and speeches for adults that can inform your family before your holiday dinner. Learning from people leading each fight is the best way to figure out how to teach your kids to respect Indigenous history during Thanksgiving.
4. Support Indigenous businesses
Learning about Thanksgiving’s history is one way to respect Indigenous history, but real people are suffering from systemic racism directed towards Indigenous people. They need more help than a kind word or show of respect. Support them financially by purchasing from Indigenous businesses.
Your family could start a new tradition of exchanging gifts during dinner. Buy things from Indigenous artists, writers, or other businesses to provide more meaningful support that makes an immediate difference. Given that one in three Indigenous people lives below the poverty line, financial support is one of the best ways to show solidarity.
5. Donate to local tribes
Research which tribes are in your area and donate money in appreciation of their culture. It’s one of the best ways people can celebrate Thanksgiving respectfully; local charities can use your donation to provide food, shelter, and resources to give people the financial ability to leave unsafe or unhealthy situations.
If you can’t find local tribes or communities that need your help, find national Indigenous charities that will still use your money to help people in need.
6. Raise awareness at dinner
Your immediate family may learn from your efforts to educate yourself, but what about the family members and friends who attend your holiday dinner? The month of November is Native American Heritage Month, so use Thanksgiving as another occasion for Indigenous recognition. Raise awareness by talking with them over your meal.
This is a crucial way to teach your kids to respect Indigenous history during Thanksgiving. They’ll enjoy their holiday meal while also gaining an education from admired adults on why it’s so important to learn about and support Indigenous people.
Now that you know how to help your family respect Indigenous history during Thanksgiving, start making changes today. The more you learn before your holiday dinner, the bigger the difference you can make for your kids and your community. Get your loved ones involved by starting conversations—and starting new traditions. They’ll help you begin a more respectful holiday season and become part of the positive change the world still needs.