November 3, 2022
Despite the complexities of recent years, Americans have many blessings to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Indigenous Americans, like Maryland’s Piscataway tribal people, however, may take a different view of Thanksgiving, which was only officially declared a holiday in 1942.
The life journeys of many Indigenous Americans have been difficult, haunted by laws and 400-year-old prejudices. In particular, Indigenous Americans cite the inaccuracy of the traditional Thanksgiving story as an example of efforts to erase historical truth about the cruel treatment of Native Americans from the 16th through the 20th century.
RRUUC has taken the important first step in helping to rewrite this history: acknowledging that our building sits on traditional lands of the Piscataway tribe, land that was stolen from them by colonial settlers. The RRUUC Land & Labor Acknowledgement Task Force is now working to build a bridge to the Piscataway community, that is still alive and well on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay.
Changing the narrative of American history about its Indigenous Peoples has been gradual. Columbus Day, honoring the 15th century explorer who killed and enslaved Indigenous Peoples in his voyages to the New World, was finally officially changed to Indigenous Peoples Day in 2021. November, designated Native American Heritage Month in 1990, includes Thanksgiving which, in the public imagination, still supports the romanticized story of a happy harvest feast shared by New England Pilgrims and the generous Wampanoag Tribe.
Family sharing on Thanksgiving is as important to Indigenous families as it is to those of European descent. Gratitude and sharing food with family and friends are basic components of Indigenous culture. As the children’s book “We Are Grateful,” written by Cherokee author Traci Sorell, explains, gratitude for connection to the earth and to each other occurs every day for Indigenous families, not just at Thanksgiving.
If you’d like to incorporate Thanksgiving truth-telling that lifts up Indigenous Americans into your holiday this year, here are links to Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and other resources to help you:
- This UUA virtual worship service was intentionally crafted by centering Indigenous Peoples and cultures. This service is presented by many Indigenous Unitarian Universalists in collaboration with relations from local tribal communities, the UU Ministry for Earth, and UU Side With Love.
The Honorable Harvest (Video with Indigenous botanist/writer Robin Wall Kimmerer)
The Real Story of the First Thanksgiving (Partnership with Native Americans)
The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday (By Sean Sherman, TIME, 2019)
Truthsgiving: The True History of Thanksgiving (By Jackie Menjivar, DoSomething.org)
Uncovering the True History of Thanksgiving (Indian Country Today, 2016)
The Thanksgiving Myth Gets a Deeper Look This Year (By Brett Anderson, New York Times, 2020)
The History and Mythology of the “First Thanksgiving” (Video from US Capitol Historical Society)