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Photo of a turkey dinner Photo of a turkey dinner

Thanksgiving is Our Favorite Holiday

By Taylor Payer

Photo of a turkey dinner

Yesterday, my friend was saying her good byes as she boarded the bus to leave for the holidays.  At the last second, she turned around to wish me a “Happy Thanksgiving” and then stumbled over her words saying, “Oh, awkward I guess I shouldn’t say that to you, huh?”

I laughed to myself and wondered why someone wouldn’t want to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving, and then realized it was because I’m Native and my friends tend to be of the politically conscious sort.  Turns out even my most aware friends don’t realize how contemporary Native Americans celebrate the holiday.

Yes, the history of Thanksgiving is riddled with problems and, depending on how you look at it, doesn’t give Natives much of a reason to celebrate. Yet, it’s a popular misconception that Natives do not celebrate Thanksgiving.  We may not celebrate it the way you do, but many of us hold the holiday dear to our hearts.

In my family, Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday.  We are Anishinaabe and live on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota where our Thanksgiving means friends and family gathering, giving thanks for not only the food, but each other as well as the land, animals, and all we’ve been given from Gitche Manitou (the Creator).  Our turkey celebration is not assimilating into American culture, but is rather an act of subtle resistance.  It’s a reminder that we are still here and no amount of small pox or colonialism could kill us.  Our answer back to the people that celebrate histories of colonialism at our expense is a delicious turkey leg enjoyed in their face. 

While it is true that some Natives do not celebrate the holiday, many more Indians take the opportunity to celebrate in our own ways.  Our ancestors survived forced relocation, the abusive boarding school system, and land theft.  In contemporary Indian Country, we are active in both tribal and mainstream political systems, we are resisting projects of colonization, and are establishing a presence across all sorts of media platforms.  We have professional Native athletes, Native students excelling across academia, many news outlets devoted to Native issues, and a healthy pan-tribal sense of humor and affinity for laughter.  For proof, look no further than the likes of the 1491s, Sherman Alexie, and your own cousin who plays the role of comedian at the holiday table.  These are reasons to celebrate and to give thanks to our ancestors who made it possible for us to do what we do as Native people today. 

I won’t be joining my family this Thanksgiving, because I cannot afford to fly home from college for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I rest happily knowing they are enjoying a huge feast with extended relatives from all over the rez and surrounding areas.  For my own Thanksgiving, I will be here, on my couch in front of the football game with a plate of feast for one, reveling in the fact that with each stuffing and gravy filled bite, we celebrate our survival. 

Follow Taylor on Twitter @TaylorPayer. 

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Taylor Payer

Anishinaabekwe, Student, and Ryan Gosling's Boyfriend.

Catch up with me @taylorpayer.

native rights


November 28, 2013

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