Native Americans push Thankstaking to retell an American myth

Written by

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe, Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Thankstaking,” the Native American-influenced alternative to Thanksgiving, has become more noticeable in the United States amid a racial showdown.

Why it’s important: Native tribes in recent years have asserted their sovereignty around water rights, criminal law and political representation. Thanksgiving, where indigenous people are at the center of a national myth, is also a target.

Details: Native activists, scholars, and artists use the hashtag #thanks in November to call attention to the land theft, removal and exclusion of Native American history in schools.

  • It is a play on the word centrism, thanks to one that acknowledges theft – of land, culture and history.

Zoom in: Native Americans say the Thanksgiving myth glosses over decades of horrific violence inflicted on Native tribes after a three-day feast between Pilgrims and Wampanoags.

  • Some use Thankstaking, sometimes referred to as Truthgiving, as a call to donate to Native nonprofits.
  • Others use it to spread humorous memes and informative videos on indigenous history.

Background: The modern Thanksgiving Day in the United States celebrates the 1621 three-day feast between Pilgrims and Wampanoagsalthough historians debate what happened and what was eaten on those days.

  • President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day celebration at the height of the Civil War to “heal the nation’s wounds.” Native scholars point out that at the same time, Lincoln was engaged in a violent campaign to remove Native Americans.
  • Schools introduced the Thanksgiving story to children without discussing the violence that followed, often encouraging students to make carved native headdresses out of paper — which some find offensive.

What they say: “Thanksgiving is nothing but government propaganda,” Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and CEO of Indigenous Advocacy Group IllumiNative, told Axios.

  • Echo Hawk, an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation, said indigenous people are tired of the romanticized version of Thanksgiving and old stereotypes of Native Americans.
  • “Real talk: The Pilgrims would be dead if we didn’t help. Thankstaking is an opportunity to emphasize…that after the first Thanksgiving, we didn’t just disappear like backwoods ghosts,” TV writer Joey Clift, a member of Cowlitz Tribe, told Axios.

Between the lines: Thankstaking has its roots in National Day of Mourning, which was launched in 1970.

  • National Day of Mourning became an annual event and coincided with Un-Thanksgiving Day – a similar ceremony held on Alcatraz Island in California.
  • Un-Thanksgiving Day commemorates the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 by indigenous activists who wanted to draw attention to the genocide.

What’s next: IllumiNative has launched Good relatives, an online campaign exploring “the diversity, beauty and resilience of Indigenous peoples in the 21st century.” The kickoff film is titled “Set the table.”

  • Clift has released a humorous digital short film, “Six Things You Didn’t Learn About Native Americans in High School,” to counter stereotypes. Among the most common: Native people have magical powers.
  • “If a grown adult who went to college and lives in a major metropolitan area asks another adult if they can turn into a wolf when the full moon comes around… there’s nothing you can do but laugh.”

About the author

Leave a Comment