I woke up this morning to see a lot of shaming, mostly by fellow lefties, of those who chose to celebrate the American Thanksgiving today. Most of this shaming focused on the dissonance between celebrating a holiday steeped in a (false, colonialist) narrative about the “First Thanksgiving” between the Pilgrims and Native Americans while there is active violence against indigenous people going on at Standing Rock and elsewhere. While I take it seriously when Native people ask us White folks to reconsider our holiday traditions and narratives, especially in the way we talk about the interaction of the Puritans and indigenous people, seeing this type of shaming from fellow White liberals struck a nerve with me.
Perhaps it is because I’ve seen them become invested in Standing Rock only in the last month or so, while I and many of my fellow activists with roots in the Dakotas — and especially Native activists — have been trying to bring Standing Rock to wider attention since last spring and summer.
Perhaps it is because I routine encounter staggering levels of ignorance about indigenous peoples among my peers in lefty circles.
Perhaps — and I think this is a large part of it — it is because I’ve become increasingly annoyed with the lefty/liberal tendency to form circular firing squads around those whose politics we feel are imperfect. (Full disclosure: This is a behavior I’ve engaged in. The days since the election have been filled with a lot of reflection and hard truths about myself, including facing up to the ways in which I’ve tried to enforce some amount of Ideological Purity. I am not proud of this. I commit to doing better.)
And perhaps it’s because I have my own conflicted feelings about the holiday. While I grew up hearing the whole colonialist narrative about the Puritans and the Natives — which, the fact that it was always “the Natives” and not “the Wampanoag and the Narraganset” is in itself a sign of the colonialist mentality — I rejected that narrative and those symbols as soon as I began to learn about the problematics of them. It’s been a long time since I connected my own Thanksgiving feast — which, as a Pagan I see as a harvest feast and a time to be grateful for everything I have — with Colonial America or the sanitized version of it we get in elementary school. I’ve struggled to find ways to decolonize the holiday for myself and my family, to create traditions that reflect my values, and I probably always will. Learning that the first National Day of Thanksgiving, established by Lincoln, did not draw on the Puritan colonizer narrative has helped me put the day is perspective. I believe that it is not only possible, it is imperative that we celebrate this day (if we so choose) not just by removing the colonialist narrative but by actively rejecting it.
Our feast tables, our cooking, our gathering with family, these are all immense opportunities to demonstrate gratitude, to question what we think we know, to offer models for a better world, to have hard but compassionate conversations about the world we want to live in. To paraphrase from a status at Decolonizing Your Diet, our cooking and feasting can be a prayer — for peace, for healing, for all those who are marginalized and oppressed. My cooking today was a prayer for Standing Rock. (I also marked today by donating supplies for the cold weather to Sacred Stone Camp.) We do not have to participate in a colonialist version of this holiday, nor do we have to reject the chance to enjoy a meal and a day (or a few hours) off with those we love, be they blood family or chosen.
I recognize that I come from a place of immense privilege in many ways. My whiteness, my enabledness, my education, my native-born-ness, my cisgender-ness — all this affords me privilege. Even my marginalized statuses, other than my gender, are relatively invisible if I choose for them to be. That privilege makes me dangerous. My education in particular affords me access to people and conversations that others cannot enter, are not invited to enter. And I will use that bully pulpit any chance I get.
I am grateful for all that I have in my life — all the love, all the opportunity, all the abundance, all the privilege. And I can think of no greater way to offer gratitude for all that I have been given than by continuing to fight for a better world for all of us, from all the places I can fight.
My Thanksgiving feast is an offering to justice, to the work we need to do, to the gratitude I have that I am in a position to help do that work.
I have cooked and eaten my dinner with my family today — cooked with my partner by my side, in a society that looks to become increasingly hostile to queer folks. And I offered up a prayer for us, and for all of those who see their right to live and love in safety put up for legislative and cultural debate. I have cooked and eaten my dinner in a state that went red in the last election, where legislators are calling for increasing restrictions on the lives of women, of all people who get pregnant, of queer folks, of POC. I have cooked and eaten my dinner today with a mixture of fear and gratitude and sadness and anger and righteous burning rage.
And now that my dinner has been eaten, now that I have risen from the table, now that the dishes have been done and the leftovers put away, I continue to fight. Today. And tomorrow. And every day.