As the thanksgiving holiday weekend draws to a close and I reflect on the swirl of public commentary among Natives and non-Natives about what a Thanksgiving celebration looks like to Indians and and what is there to give thanks for, I thought I would share some of my memories and what this holiday might mean for us today. When I was growing up in St. Francis and Rosebud, I remember thanksgiving as a social, family time – we didn’t engage in much political discussion. We were mostly interested in our Mom’s good cooking. Her pumpkin pie made in a rectangular cake pan so it could be a deep dish pie is still a family tradition. I make my stuffing the same way she did. At some point we began to have cherry jello with canned fruit cocktail, a major treat for us. We had a kids table and a grown-up table until my parents got an even bigger table so we could all sit there. We ate simply, but my parents made sure we had plenty to eat. When I was older and had children of my own, my Mom reinforced that each of us should create our own family traditions, the kids and I cheerfully made turkeys out of handprints and wrote on them what we are thankfulfor, we still do that in my home. I keep the handprints for the poignant memories they invoke in later years. This year one of my grandsons said he was thankful to be an Indian and that he had long hair. I am thankful to be a mom and grandma which is a great joy and privilege. I am also thankful for Batman, which is a family memory for my daughter and I.
As we grew older, those of who are engaged in the business of self-determination and protection of sovereignty became increasingly aware of the incongruity between our celebration of thanksgiving and our history as Indigenous in this country. We feel a guilty pleasure in gathering as family and friends, keeping old traditions and making new ones. We reach out to each other to give advice, seek meaning, share our thanks for what we do have. We remind ourselves that we are responsible for each other and should give generously of our time and resources to our Native family and to others who are struggling.
All of our discussion about whether we should celebrate Thanksgiving does exactly what it should do. It makes us remember, it brings us closer together, it causes the grown-ups to pause and tell the children some of our history and it honors our bounty and gifts as Native people.
Both of my parents are gone now, somewhere in the spirit world they are watching their children and grandchildren to see what we are doing to remember our families who are our history and to give thanks. Today is my Dad’s birthday, we still miss him, sometimes Thanksgiving Day was his birthday and we would have cake too.