Giving Thanks without Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I loved the food and family and gathering with friends, especially as it was one of the few non-religious holidays. I love stuffing and gravy and cranberry sauce, but I had never thought about how the smell of the pies baking was shadowed by a history of colonization, of genocide, and stolen children, stolen lands and languages.

But over the last few years, I have become more unsettled to “celebrate” it. I have noticed that in many ways it has been recast it as a day of gratitude. However I should be grateful every day, and reshaping a day that celebrates colonization and genocide of peoples and cultures seems like another act of aggression. And one of erasure. Again.

So instead, my four-year-old and I spent today learning about indigenous people and colonization. Today we talked about the real history of Thanksgiving. After some discussion of Pilgrims, family history, whiteness and white privilege, his response was, “We killed the indigenous people?!?” Why would we do that?!” So simple. He learned about the history and at four, quickly extrapolated the historical significance.

It sparked a conversation about money and capitalism and land use and culture, at an age-appropriate level. In that moment, when he was so sad that white people were oppressors that they had killed indigenous people, I wanted to comfort him. I wanted to assure him it’s not us, we didn’t do it personally, it’s not our fault.

But that’s not true. If you look at our nation’s current policies and political situation, it’s still happening. Tho bodies of stolen children are still being found on the grounds of boarding schools. Activists protesting pipelines and tribal sovereignty are still being arrested. So if we don’t learn, and we don’t do something, it is our fault. It was and continues to be. So as a parent, I had to dig past that discomfort, own it and continue the work.

We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year, but instead reflected on history and how we can contribute to change, each day and every day. Because just like being grateful, this is work that needs to be done every day, not just once a year.

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