For many, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones and express gratitude for our blessings. This year, many are anticipating the return of beloved traditions around food, family, and footfall that we had to skip last year. The holiday also, undeniably, represents a shameful period in American history.
Thankfully most schools here in Massachusetts have abandoned some of the most cringe-worthy approaches towards teaching kids about Thanksgiving. We don’t see a lot of construction paper headdresses or class plays where the Native characters have to act grateful to the colonists for “civilizing” them. However, there’s no getting around the fact that Thanksgiving represents the successful launch of the colonial project in what is now the United States, leading to the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the attempted erasure of Native cultures.
So what is a parent who cares about racial justice to do? Rather than celebrating Thanksgiving, some families make the choice to commemorate the National Day of Mourning, when indigenous people and their allies gather in Plymouth to honor indigenous ancestors and to protest against the racism and oppression that indigenous people continue to experience worldwide. Others continue to embrace the holiday, but make the effort to have honest conversations with their children about the brutal history that it glorifies. (Find some resources to support talking with your kids here and here.) But what if we also treated the holiday as a chance to take positive action to support Indigenous communities?
I recently learned about the Black Swamp Rematriation Project*. In collaboration with the Agrarian Trust, members of the Massachusett and Nipmuc tribes are working to purchase and preserve a 64-acre plot of farmland on their traditional lands. The vision for this land is to restore the matriarchal principles of earth-centered stewardship. They plan to carry out activities including sheep farming, growing traditional varieties of corn, squashes, beans, and grains, starting a small nursery and orchard, as well as indigenous ceremony and indigenous art-making. This is one effort in the larger #LandBack movement, which has worked for generations to get Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands.
The Black Swamp Rematriation Project* presents a concrete way to support Indigenous people in my neck of the woods. I seized the opportunity to take action with my family.
I started with a conversation with my 10-year-old. As we were walking home from the orthodontist, I asked her what she remembered about the first people who lived on this land. Having studied the Wampanoag in school in both 3rd and 4th grades and written a report about their food and medicine, she was able to recall a lot of information. I then inquired if she knew what had happened once English colonists arrived in the region, and we discussed how the English had claimed the land throughout our region for their own, pushing Native tribes off their traditional hunting grounds. I made sure to express my sadness and outrage over the way that the Natives were treated. With that context in place, I gave a quick overview of the Black Swamp Rematriation Project, and asked her if she’d be interested in donating to support it. Without hesitation, she responded, “Yes!”
Back at home, my daughter and I went onto the website together to learn more about the project. After watching a short video and reading about the plans for the site, I asked her how much she would like to donate. She hedged and asked me what I thought, but I insisted that she make this decision for herself, as she’d be donating her own money. Ultimately, she decided on $20 of her “give away money” (my kids get a three-part allowance: money to spend, to save, and to give away), which we added to the funds that I was planning to donate, and we made a joint donation then and there.
This approach towards Thanksgiving sits right with me. When White parents engage our kids in honest conversations about our history as colonizers, it can surface uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, and anger. These feelings aren’t helpful by themselves. (I’ll write more about this in an upcoming post.) What IS helpful is channeling these emotions into action. Sadness, guilt, and anger can motivate us to take concrete steps to remedy past wrongs and work to create a better future. From now on, I plan to frame Thanksgiving as a call to action.
*Contact us to get the password to access the Black Swamp Rematriation Project webpage.