Racial Justice Resources for Thanksgiving

Vintage illustrated image of woman smiling and holding a ham, surrounded by other food. Creative commons image via  Pixabay .

Vintage illustrated image of woman smiling and holding a ham, surrounded by other food. Creative commons image via Pixabay.

by Abaki Beck

I grew up loving and celebrating Thanksgiving. Yet as a Native American, I was aware of the harsh differences between the actual history of Thanksgiving and what I was taught at school. In second grade, my teacher asked all students to come to school the day before Thanksgiving break dressed as Indians or Pilgrims. My parents complained to the school that their kids (and many others at the school) dressed like Indians every day; the event was cancelled, forever casting us as the Family That Ruined Thanksgiving.

 Some Native Americans recognize Thanksgiving as a day of resistance - the Day of Mourning protest has been held at Plymouth Rock since 1970, while Unthanksgiving has been held at Alcatraz since 1975. Other families, like my own, continue to celebrate but recognize that Thanksgiving - harvest feasts - were celebrated in the Americas long before colonizers were here. Even today, most “Thanksgiving foods” - turkey, cranberry sauce, wild rice stuffing, pumpkin pie - are Indigenous foods. Thanksgiving was not created “for white people.” It has always been a Native American celebration. However we chose to recognize the holiday, we must be critical and center the voices of Native Americans.

Here, we’ve compiled some great sources on racial justice at Thanksgiving.

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving, a curriculum compiled by the National Museum of the American Indian

For me, Thanksgiving is a “Day of Mourning” by Kisha James, Refinery29

Can you celebrate American history without celebrating colonialism? by Michael Dax for Yes! Magazine

Sherman Alexie: Thanksgiving is a story of survival, interview with Sarah Mirk for Bitch Media

The Future is Indigenous: Decolonizing Thanksgiving by Maile Arvin for Truthout

A Resource Guide to Thanksgiving for Educators and Parents compiled by Border Crossers

Thanksgiving Toolkit: Bringing Justice Home, guide to family conversations by Showing Up for Racial Justice

Your Uncle Said What? How to talk about social justice with your family during the holidays by Wyatt Massey, Yes! Magazine

How to Decolonize Your Thanksgiving Dinner by Javier Cabral, interview with Navajo and White Mountain Apache Chef Nephi Craig

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen cookbook by Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman

Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest by Ojibwe writer Heid Erdrich

Decolonize Your Diet cookbook by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel

Native American Foods and Health resources on food sovereignty and Native American food systems from the First Nations Development Institute


If you chose not to celebrate Thanksgiving, consider donating to one of these organizations that works for Native American communities, or donate to an organization serving tribes and people near you:

Indian Law Resource Center

Native American Rights Fund

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

The MMIW Database

Center for Native American Youth

National Indian Child Welfare Association

Idle No More

Honor the Earth

First Nations Development Institute