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8 Ways to Decolonize and Honor Native Peoples on Thanksgiving

Updated: Nov 26, 2019

The following article was published November 21, 2018 by Cultural Survival.



Stories told about the first Thanksgiving often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and racism. It is important to set the record straight, acknowledge Native Peoples, debunk myths, and show Native Americans as contemporary people with dynamic thriving cultures. November is National Native American Heritage Month and offers many opportunities to move past one-dimensional representations. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to also go beyond the harmful “pilgrims and Indians” narrative and focus on common values: generosity, gratitude, and community.


1. Learn the Real History. 

Thanksgiving, like Columbus Day, serves as a reminder of the genocide and violence Native communities experienced and continue to experience.  Learn about Thanksgiving and early colonial history from Native perspectives.


Thanksgiving is a tradition. It's also a lie

Thanksgiving: A Native American View

Wampanoag's perspective on the first Thanksgiving

The Future is Indigenous: Decolonizing Thanksgiving

THANKSGIVING: A Day of Mourning

Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving? By NMAI

Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong

Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in School


Watch Captured. This video details the 1614 kidnapping of twenty Wampanoag men from Patuxet, the Wampanoag village that eventually became Plymouth Colony, by European explorers who planned to sell them and the additional seven Native people taken from Nauset on Cape Cod as slaves in Spain. It is an introductory video for the Captured 1614 exhibit created for Plymouth 400 and the Indian Spiritual and Cultural Training Council. Learn more here.


Watch Why Treaties Matter. The United States has ratified more than 370 treaties with Native American Nations. Yet, many Americans know little about the treaties that shaped and continue to impact the country today.


Learn about the #Honor1851Treaty Music Campaign. In honor of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, signed on September 17, 1851 between United States treaty commissioners and representatives of the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations, the campaign taps music fans and supporters of Indigenous rights and culture in an effort to raise awareness of the wisdom in upholding and honoring treaties made with Native Nations.


2. Decolonize Your Dinner. Native chefs have created a culinary movement with the goal of getting Indigenous people to honor their ancestors through their dietary choices. Bring Native American dishes to the dinner table.  


The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie.

As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday

How to Decolonize Your Thanksgiving Dinner

This Thanksgiving, Make These Native Recipes From Indigenous Chefs

The Native American Side Of The Thanksgiving Menu


3. Listen to Indigenous Voices. It was the Wampanoag People, the People of the First Light, that encountered the Pilgrims when they arrived in Turtle Island from Europe in 1620. Since 1863, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday in the United States, mythologizing the violent events that followed European arrival into a story of friendship and mutual sharing. But the reality is that the Wampanoags’ generosity was met with genocide, and this truth has been systematically suppressed in the US education system, government, and popular culture. Listen to an interview with Cedric Cromwell, the Tribal Council Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Nation.


4. #StandwithMashpee.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are calling on members of Congress to help “protect the statute of reservation” after the Trump Administration overturned an Obama era decision that could see their land taken from them. This marks the first time that Native land has been taken out of trust since the “Termination Era” of the 1940-60s, a huge blow to Indigenous sovereignty. Stand with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe by calling your representatives to pass HR 5244, THE MASHPEE WAMPANOAG TRIBE RESERVATION REAFFIRMATION ACT.


5. Celebrate Native People.

Finally, mainstream media is focusing on the amazing Native talent Indian County has to offer. Check out these talented artists: Frank Waln, Nataanii Means, Mike Clifford, and Inez Jasper.


Rebel Music offers Common Core-based curriculum. Share it with the teachers in your life!

For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were marginalized. That's why it's especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with these great books by Native writers.


7 Thanksgiving books for kids written from the Native perspective

Join the #NativeReads Campaign

10 Children's Books by Native Writers


Search 46 years of interviews and articles with and about Native leaders from the Cultural Survival Quarterly archives.


6. Buy Native This Holiday.

Support Native artists online though the Buy Native Campaign


7. Share Positive Representations of Native People.

Project 562 and Red Works Photography showcase contemporary Native America and Canada with grace, beauty, and style. Matika Wilbur and Nadya Kwadibens are changing the perceptions of Native and First Nations people.


8. End Racist Native Mascots in Sports

Get involved: #NotYourMascot, #ChangeTheName, and #NoHonorInRacism. Check out our Abolishing Racist Native Mascots: A Toolkit for Change.


There are still more than 1,000 high school, university and professional teams that continue to have Native American mascots. Though changes have been made at the high school and college levels, at the professional level there has been virtually no change. Start the change in your community.

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