November is Native American Heritage Month, and you may be aware that for Native Americans the Thanksgiving holiday represents something very different. Since 1970 Thanksgiving has been observed as the Day of Mourning for the United American Indian Tribes in New England and Indigenous people throughout the US. To Indigenous tribes, it’s a painful and sad celebration of a false narrative. It represents to tribal nations the celebration of colonization and genocide of their people.
For the past couple of years in our household, instead of celebrating our vegan Thanksgiving, we made changes to that tradition. Instead, we have observed the day as a day of remembrance in solidarity with Native Americans as the Day of Mourning—fasting until the sun goes down. Some of our friends also observe that as well. I’ve let my family know about our observance as this is the first time we will have seen them in two years (since the Pandemic began). They understand that we will be visiting them but not be eating the food we’ve brought until evening. We’re bringing simple food—none of the traditional “special” vegan dishes we’ve had in the past. They know why and understand that as well. They’ve chosen not to take it personally or be offended, and their acceptance is to their credit and their love for us. I believe they may even be changing their time of eating to later than usual as well.
Instead of engaging in the frenzy of Black Friday, our household has chosen to have our Day of Thanks and Gratitude on the Friday after the third Thursday of November. We’ll have our special plant-based meal and dedicate the day to giving thanks and being grateful for the loving people and gifts in our lives.
I’m not writing about this because I expect anyone else to do the same. But I did want to write about how as my own awareness grows, my choices grow as well. Has it made my husband and I feel better to make that change over the past couple of years? No, but, for us, it feels right and through the acknowledgement of the truth, maybe reparations and healing can begin in our country. The truth has been covered over in our culture by a whitewashed revisionist story that I’ve celebrated most of my life, and we decided a couple of years ago that we’re not going to celebrate that false narrative again.
I had a conversation with a dear friend earlier today about how the truth of the violent and oppressive past in the US needs to be seen and the people who were and are harmed acknowledged and changes made. We both agreed that discomfort is part of the process of necessary acknowledgement of the truth. I deeply hope change will happen–reparations will happen, and justice.
Here is a powerful short video about the holiday by an independent film maker, Honor the Truth about Thanksgiving:
© Copyright 2021, Mary Claire O’Neal