As the pandemic rages on, it’s continuing to teach us all about the enormity of our resilience as individuals and communities across the country. It’s also granting us the collective opportunity to pause and notice the underpinnings of oppression, greed, inequity and the uglier truths of our nation that are easy to forget when life is speeding by at a fast pace.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday this year, WDET’s Detroit Today spends an hour taking a hard look at the genocidal and colonial origins of this day for Indigenous communities and peeling back the curtain to look at the stories left out of so many of the history books and lessons we all grew up with.
Listen: Stephen Henderson and three Indigenous women explore historical and narrative equity as it relates to Indigenous voices and perspectives going into this holiday.
Pat McCabe is a Diné or Navajo mother, grandmother, activist, artist, writer, ceremonial leader and international speaker. She joins Henderson to talk about her thoughts on the role of tending and caring for natural spaces as it relates to Indigenous ways of connecting with the land.
In addressing the colonial narrative presented in history books in the United States, McCabe says “we’re presented in the US history books as if this land…was just a blank page waiting to be written upon by somebody…It wasn’t that this land was untouched by human hands. There were millions of inhabitants on this continent.” She explains the careful tending that happened over centuries on the continent of North America, noting, “What we had here was an entire continent that was a thriving single organism.” In looking at this Thanksgiving, and what she’s grateful for, McCabe says she’s “thankful for [her] ancestors and whatever decisions they had to make…it’s hard to describe the level of displacement…There are many pathways for moving future generations forward.”
“I’m grateful to be an indigenous person who has been through all of that [history and displacement] and to arrive at this moment” says activist, writer, and Diné elder Pat McCabe.
Sierra Clark is an Odawa and Anishinaabe journalism fellow with the Traverse City Record-Eagle and Indigenizing the News. She has a piece coming out on Thanksgiving in the Traverse City Record Eagle, Planet Detroit and Indigenizing the News that details her thoughts on Thanksgiving as an indigenous woman.
Clark, who grew up in a mostly white community, remembers the Eurocentric lessons she received and says that collectively, we can do better. “We need to have an indigenous perspective when teaching about Thanksgiving… so we don’t have the erasure of indigenous people,” she says. Clark recalls making “very cliché headdresses and pilgrim hats. And as a little Indigenous girl, I knew it was wrong, but I trusted (my teachers). And it was confusing for me.” Clark says she stopped celebrating the holiday in a traditional sense years ago and now spends the day mourning her ancestors with family members. “I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as I used to…My family and I, we spend part of the day mourning. We also use the day to really look at everything we do have because of our ancestors, because of what they sacrificed,” she says.
Meghanlata Gupta is a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians and founder of Indigenizing the News, a digital news source dedicated to educating non-Native allies about Native nations, cultures, issues, and knowledge systems. Gupta says she does commemorate the holiday, but in her own way. “For me, I welcome celebrations about giving thanks, thinking about family, thinking about family histories… For Native people, this is a very complex holiday, and we need to celebrate it however we find comfortable,” she says.
In this moment of collective cultural and social reckoning, Gupta says that “this is a great time to kind of just grow in your education and grow in your understanding, resisting the myths that have been passed down.”