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How You Can Be an Ally to Indigenous People on Thanksgiving

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

By Melissa del Carmen Gomez

Thanksgiving, a season of family and food, is amongst us. In schools, most children are drawing turkeys and learning about the friendly interaction between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, and the feast they held in commemoration of their friendship. But there is so much more to the story. American history books did a good job not only promoting this mythological story of a “peaceful” Thanksgiving, but excluding the darker history behind the colonization of America: the mass genocides, forced removal from tribal lands, forced assimilation, and boarding schools where many Indigenous children were sent. Although most non-Natives act as if these monstrosities occurred centuries ago, that is far from the truth. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978. That’s only 42 years ago. Before this, imagine not being able to practice your culture. To share stories handed down by your ancestors, to sing songs or dance, to create, to continue passing down knowledge and wisdom handed to you by your mother, your grandmother, your couldn’t do this.

This Thanksgiving, I implore non-Natives to be an ally. You may be wondering: How can I be an ally? Well, here are a few ways.

Learn your History

Image via The Granger Collection, NYC

The real story of Thanksgiving is much darker than the one you most likely learned in grade school. The Thanksgiving myth depicts Native peoples as giving “America” to the colonizers: that it was a friendly exchange and Indigenous people were willing to give land to the European colonizers. The actual word “thanksgiving” was never mentioned in history until 1637. Massachusetts Colony Governor John Winthrop declared a day of “thanksgiving” after volunteers slaughtered 700 Pequot people. David Silverman, a history professor at Washington University, comments about the true history of Thanksgiving in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine. “Wampanoag leader Ousamequin reached out to the English at Plymouth and wanted an alliance with them. But it’s not because he was innately friendly. It’s because his people have been decimated by an epidemic disease, and Ousamequin sees the English as an opportunity to fend off his tribal rebels…The Thanksgiving myth doesn’t address the deterioration of this relationship culminating in one of the most horrific colonial Indian wars on record, King Philip’s War, and also doesn’t address Wampanoag survival and adaptation over the centuries…

Support Indigenous-owned Businesses

Image via Orenda Tribe Instagram

There are many cool shops you can check out and shop from, as well as a variety of items. If you are a makeup lover, I recommend Cheekbone Beauty. Their lipsticks and glosses are fantastic and pigmented. Urban Native Era has streetwear for anyone who needs t-shirts, socks, or hats. Orenda Tribe is a fantastic brand that has done multiple campaigns, and the brand also supports ADABI Healing Center (domestic violence/sexual assault shelter). Mini Tipi sells blankets and items for babies as well as shawls, bags, beanies, and scarves—perfect for the upcoming cold season!


Image via Native Wellness Institute

If you want to donate and give back this Thanksgiving, please check out the following:

“Founded in 1989, Amá Dóó Álchíní Bíghan (ADABI) is the primary provider of services for domestic violence, sexual assault, family violence, and dating violence victims in the Chinle Agency of the Navajo Nation.”

In partnership with Indigenous, private, and public sector stakeholders, Indspire educates, connects and invests in Indigenous people so they will achieve their highest potential.”

“The Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) acknowledges First Nations peoples and recognises their continuous connection to Country, community, and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging, and honor the sharing of traditional stories passed down through generations. In particular, ILF acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the Traditional Owners, and Custodians of the lands on which our head office is based in Sydney.”

“The Native Wellness Institute exists to promote the well-being of Native people through programs and trainings that embrace the teachings and traditions of our ancestors.”

Listen and Amplify.

Follow Indigenous activists such as Allen Salway, Autumn Peltier, Kinsale Hueston, and others. Follow news sites such as Indian Country Today or Indianz and follow up on Native American news and interesting history articles. Learn which tribal land you reside on here. Being an ally means not only listening to Indigenous voices but bringing up challenging questions. Question the history you are learning in your classroom. Think about ways YOU can help Indigenous communities.

Written by writer Melissa Del Carmen Gomez

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