Adding Appreciation of Native American People and Culture to Your Thanksgiving

native american headdress in the glare of the sun with

I love pie and turkey but want to learn a more accurate history of Native America people and the Thanksgiving holiday. The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian states: 

“We encourage you to celebrate the vibrancy of Native cultures through Native American art, literature, and foods while you celebrate Thanksgiving. Native perspectives are especially important to include when teaching the history of the “First Thanksgiving”. Giving thanks is a longstanding and central tradition among most Native groups that is still practiced today. The First Thanksgiving is often portrayed as a friendly harvest festival where Pilgrims and generic, nameless “Indians” came together to eat and give thanks. In reality, the assembly of the Wampanoag Peoples and the English settlers in 1621 had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and a pursuit of peace.”

As you gather with family or friends this Thanksgiving, here are 3 new traditions you can adopt to help recognize and learn about Native Americans this year. 

Download the Native Land App on your smartphone: Using your location or the search function, Native Land shares what Native land is for the area. It shows the nation’s names and links to local organizations and sites to learn more about the Native people and cultures.

From the Native Land website: “Native Land Digital creates spaces where non-Indigenous people can be invited and challenged to learn more about the lands they inhabit, the history of those lands, and how to actively be part of a better future going forward together.

For example, Fairbanks, Alaska (where we’re currently stationed) is on Tanana land . Recently, Ft. Wainwright added Native Land acknowledgement signage to the entrances to post. We’ve enjoyed learning more about the history of the land we live on as a family. 

Share books about Native culture:  Sometimes I don’t know how to explain everything to my kids. I’m grateful to authors who craft their words in a way that makes it easier to connect about important topics with them. For younger kids to learn about Native Americans, try We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell to follow a year with a Cherokee community. Another choice is Walking on Earth & Touching The Sky, a collection of poetry from Lakota Youth at Red Cloud Indian School.

For adults, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1820 to the Present by David Truer. This was one of the most impactful books I read last year, and I can’t recommend it enough. 

Learn about Native American contributions: Native Americans serve at 5 times the national average in the United States military. You may have heard of the Navajo Code Breakers, but do you know about Native American women serving in our military? Native American governments also provided models for federated representative democracy to American colonists. Native Americans have made incredible contributions to public health through conservation efforts and using traditional foods and herbs to maintain their health.