I am looking forward to Thanksgiving this year as I always do, but with some trepidation. Before I explain what I mean, let me introduce myself. I am a white woman, have been a UU for many years, am focused on social justice, and serve as a board member for the UU Justice Ministry of California.
My joy in Thanksgiving is that it provides an opportunity to eat great food, share time with beloved family, and count my bountiful blessings. What’s not to like, right? The problem for me is the story of how Thanksgiving came to be a holiday in the United States.
I don’t want to eliminate Thanksgiving as a celebration that is part of our American tradition: I want an opportunity to pay attention to the great bounty and joy of my life. However, I don’t want to be in support of a fictitious story that whitewashes and supports a narrative about how not just our forebears, but some UUs today, are disrespecting and furthering the oppression of an entire people that deserve our appreciation, respect, and gratitude for their generosity; and our respect for their suffering.
The traditional story of the pilgrims and the Native Americans coming together to celebrate a good harvest and share their mutual good fortune isn’t true. No matter how lovely a picture we would like to create. The more accurate story is that the settlers to this new land, as their first piece of business, took land from the Native peoples that had not only lived there but also lived in covenant with and worked to produce food for their community with a particular type of reverence that the newly arrived colonizers did not understand. They stole their land.
While it is also true that the Native peoples had been struggling to survive for several years when the newcomers [aka Pilgrims] arrived, it was upon our indigenous siblings’ backs that the new settlers eventually prospered.
Yes, there may have been a celebration, and previous keepers and caretakers of the land came to share a meal; however, this didn’t mark the beginning of a relationship of mutuality. Awful as the truer story is and shameful as a celebration of it continues to be, today it could be somewhat mitigated if we, unlike our forebears, proceed to live into covenant with the first people of this land … but that is still not the case.
I try to be a person who supports justice in every way possible. I am called to find new ways to honor our Indigenous neighbors and friends (siblings). For example, one practice that has gained popularity with many of our UU communities is offering “land acknowledgment” at the beginning of our gatherings. It reminds us that we are not the only owners of the land we live on; we are stewards.
I plan to offer a land acknowledgment with my family on Thanksgiving Day this year and acknowledge the rich culture of Native peoples, but that does not seem like enough.
This offering is only one practice; there are many other practices that we could institute, including, but not limited to celebrating only Thanksgiving on Thursday and Native American Heritage Day on Friday.
I ask you to also invest your time, talent, and treasure in a Native American community near you, as I also hope to do. We must become proximate to and honor the lives of our Indigenous siblings who are here now, have long passed, and are yet to come.
I urge you to consider how changing this narrative might work for you as you gather with family and friends this holiday week.
The Reverend Doctor Karen Stoyanoff