Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Native Culture at Thanksgiving

Because of the roots of today’s holiday in the early encounters between European settlers and Native populations, there’s a multiplicity of viewpoints among American Indians about Thanksgiving.
“Some see it with hostility. Some celebrate it with guilt, while others see it as an opportunity to educate and get in touch with our Americana,” said Patty Loew, a professor, historian, journalist and Bad River Tribal Member.
She’s in the latter camp. If you entered her kitchen, she said, “you would probably mistake me for any other American celebrating a day of food, friends and family.” Her family table includes red cabbage from her German ancestors and Korean kimchee from her brother who loves spicy foods.
But Patty understands why some American Indians choose to fast or protest the holiday because it is rooted in a mythical image of the ‘first’ Thanksgiving feast in 1621 as a “hands across the waters, friendly, wonderful experience.” Squanto, she noted, learned English as a slave. And by the time Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Tribes were already decimated by diseases likely brought by earlier European settlers.
So she uses Thanksgiving, and November’s National American Indian Heritage Month, as a chance to correct that image and replace it with a deeper understanding of Native culture.
“In mainstream America, sometimes we just give thanks for our football teams and the extra notch on our belts,” Patty said. “But this one time of year is a real chance for me to share the Native spirit and talk about thanksgiving in a broad, spiritual way.”
Patty cited an Iroquois thanksgiving prayer as embodying Indian sentiment on thanks. It gives thanks to the waters, birds, plants, moon, people, teachers, the creator and more, beginning:
“Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people.”