Native American Perspective on Thanksgiving

Native American people share perspective on Thanksgiving traditions

Often, the story of Thanksgiving taught in schools nationwide is a romanticized version of Native Americans and colonizers coming together to share a feast. Despite its fairytale perception among Americans, colonization had many detrimental effects on Native American populations. Years later, negative connotations are still attached to Thanksgiving traditions for many Native people.

“We don’t celebrate as other people do,” freshman Shash Jake said. “We celebrate it as Christopher Columbus coming here and committing genocide against us.” 

Jake is a member of multiple Native American tribes from both sides of his family including Apache, Navajo, Laguna, and Papago. Jake explained how his family still gathers on Thanksgiving similar to others, but celebrates their Native culture instead. 

“Usually the majority of Native Americans go out and do a powwow,” Jake said. 

Recently elected onto the Lawrence school board, Carole Cadue-Blackwood has been a notable advocate for Native American students. A member of the Kickapoo tribe, she is responsible for the renaming of South Middle School to Billy Mills. Cadue-Blackwood agrees that Thanksgiving is a relevant topic among Native American people. She and her family celebrate thanksgiving like most families, gathering and giving thanks, with Native culture tied in. 

“We celebrate by playing a traditional hand game called kus-a-kee that has been passed on since before we were forcibly removed from our ancestral homelands,” Cadue-Blackwood said.

Cadue-Blackwood also discussed the importance of accurate, respectful teaching of Thanksgiving origins in our schools.

 “I am deeply troubled when I hear about or see small school children running around in homemade paper headdresses,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “It’s offensive. There are other ways to teach our children about Native American contributions.” 

“Decolonizing the classroom,” as she described it, starts with using reliable resources. Accurate curriculum about the holiday and Native American history can help break down negative stereotypes for Native students in our schools. 

Both Jake and Cadue-Blackwood celebrate Thanksgiving, but believe that the practices of the holiday need to acknowledge its implications on Native American culture. 

“[Thanksgiving] is a time for friends and family to re-connect, eat and enjoy each other’s company,” Cadue-Blackwood said. “It is important that Thanksgiving is respectful to Native Americans, because without the Native Americans, there possibly wouldn’t have been a Thanksgiving to celebrate.”