Celebrating True Thanksgiving: One Native American View | Sojourners

Celebrating True Thanksgiving: One Native American View


Millions of Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving again this year with a philosophy of Manifest Destiny. Many Native Americans will not celebrate Thanksgiving at all. They will view the holiday as a national day of mourning. To them, the Thanksgiving Myth justifies the genocide of indigenous peoples and acquiesces to notions of White supremacy. They will protest at Plymouth Rock and disseminate stories of the many massacres of Native Americans.

Some of us, trying to think through our mutual history, have asked questions like: "Should we even celebrate Thanksgiving? And if so, how?" In contrast to the sanitized Pilgrim story that we all learn, and in contrast to the horror stories from our past, I suggest that we replace the dominant myth of Thanksgiving with an alternate view.

We should begin by realizing that Thanksgiving in America didn't begin with the Pilgrims. For thousands of years feasts of thanksgiving have been characteristic of our Indian people. This has never ceased. While I do not advocate we replace them with the dominant Thanksgiving myth, I still don't want to give up any type of festival of thanksgiving to the Creator -- not even Thanksgiving Day. Why? The answer is simple. Everything we have comes from God. We should always give thanks -- for everything! I think our indigenous ancestors would agree with this point.

I wake up every morning and give thanks to Creator-Son, Jesus, for all that I have. Each day my wife and I burn sweet grass, read a devotional and pray for many things. Most of this time we spend giving thanks. We often have guests in our home (native and non-native) who join us during these times. How can I wake up on the day that is designated "Thanksgiving," or any day, and do something different?

We know that many of the "Christian" Pilgrims did not act like it-their greed for land and false notions of superiority did not reflect Jesus. We also know there were real times of peace and friendship that did reflect the real Jesus. We should celebrate those times. But, if we are using the Thanksgiving holiday as a narrative for peace and friendship, then let's build upon that and not ignore the whole picture.

The fact remains, settlers killed a lot of Indians, sometimes without mercy even for women and children. And, they often justified it with moral superiority from a "righteous" Christian base. That march of supposed moral supremacy over Native Americans is in "lock step" with the current call to war. If you don't support the current war, (or America's feigned moral superiority), take ownership of the whole history and celebrate the times of peace.

We can also celebrate new possibilities of true reconciliation with Native Americans, Muslims, and all the "other" people who have been the recipients of the devastation brought on by the dominant myth. Our family, on Thanksgiving Day, chooses to invite non-Indians to our home to cultivate true friendship.

Our family's prayer for you is to celebrate and enjoy this time of Thanksgiving, be thankful, educate yourselves concerning the real history of America, and use this time to encourage reconciliation between your family and those who share a different history. This is the first step to healing our land.


Randy WoodleyRev. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian teacher, lecturer, poet, activist, pastor and the author of Living in Color: Embracing God's Passion for Ethnic Diversity (InterVarsity Press). http://www.eagleswingsministry.com/

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