Thanksgiving Reimagined: Celebrate Native Culture with Gratitude and Rebirth

by Nov 18, 2021Smoke Signals2 comments

Thanksgiving Reimagined: Celebrate Native Culture with Gratitude and Rebirth

by Nov 18, 2021Smoke Signals2 comments

Fun Thanksgiving fact! The only time history mentions Pilgrims and turkeys in the same breath is when 16-year-old William Granger was hanged for buggering one.

Hate to bust Grandma’s gravy boat, but turkey was not on the First Thanksgiving menu — not unless you’re young Billie Granger, heading back to the barn for a feast of romance.

So this Thanksgiving, as you’re basking in the L-tryptophan afterglow of the holiday feast, watching “Cars 17” on the widescreen, ask yourself: Did you just bugger a turkey or did that turkey bugger you?

Plenty of history gets mulled in the Origins of Thanksgiving myth: Mainly, that Pilgrims and Indians lived happily ever after.

Nope, the Wampanoag did not befriend the Pilgrims and teach them to harvest crops out of the kindness of their hearts. They did it to survive. Their population was ravaged by disease and faced war with its neighbors. Compared to bows and arrows, Pilgrim muskets would make better friends than enemies, they reasoned.

The Princeton Union, 1914.

Unfortunately, history was about as kind to the Wampanoag people as it was to young Billie Granger. Saving the Pilgrims from starvation was thanked by slow, unyielding genocide and the stealing of their land. 

A generation after that first Thanksgiving feast, the government was paying bounties on the scalps of indigenous children, women, and men — $12,000 a head in today’s dollars.

And white children have dressed in feathered headdresses like Indians doing the war whoop ever since.

That’s cultural appropriation in a nutshell — trade your Grandma’s corn casserole recipe for a few smallpox blankets, genocide, and a plague. The Thanksgiving myth becomes a convenient way to whitewash spectacularly ugly American history.

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Cultural appropriation is convenient and sly. It happens under our breath so often we don’t even notice. Cultural appropriation is the stealing of a culture that’s not your own and using it for your personal interest. It mocks or ridicules a culture — copies influences — for personal gain. It’s the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo smiling his racist cartoon, Trump doing the Tomahawk chop while Melania ponders what the hell’s become of her life.

But the world’s also a big cultural melting pot of chilli, brimming with eclectic peppers, beans, and spices. It’s the cultures of all the world that flavor the sauce. If you are consciously thoughtful, you can appreciate and celebrate the variety of cultures, including American Indigenous cultures, without denigration. 

Cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation is a nuanced trance, but the difference really comes down to respect. Are you respecting and honoring the culture or just ripping it off? Are you seeking to understand and learn about the culture, or just turn it into a cartoon?

When it comes to African American culture, cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation is the difference between the Rolling Stones and Elvis. Sure, the Rolling Stones admittedly ripped off Muddy Waters, but they paid him, celebrated him, rocked night clubs with him until the early dawn. Elvis, on the other hand, ripped off Big Mama Thorton, never paid her a dime, and refused to perform on the same stage with her because she was Black.

How We Celebrate Indigenous Traditions

We celebrate culture. We celebrate Native American culture. We celebrate Chinese medicine. We celebrate your grandmother and the roots she put in her tea.

We don’t have to be a 100% Native American owned company to honor the Indigenous traditions, especially when it comes to the ancient art of smoking and appreciating herbs as medicine. They inspire and move us. We honor them, their history, and the traditions of natural medicine.

When it comes to practicing Yoga for instance, you can take part in a deeply meditative Yoga class and explore the traditions without literally being from India.  Your instructor doesn’t even need to be from India.  Having a deeper understanding of the philosophies and traditions that guide the yoga practice helps instill a cultural appreciation that makes the experience more meaningful.

Artwork by Howard Terpning

A Thanksgiving Rebirth

The essence of Thanksgiving doesn’t really have anything to do with Indians and Pilgrims. That was the myth used to sell it. The holiday was actually invented by Abraham Lincoln as a way of bringing families together to celebrate gratitude in the midst of the tragedy of the Civil War.

Traditionally, Autumn signals a time of maturity, harvest, reaping what we sow. That’s why it coincides with the Day of the Dead — It’s a transition into the grounding of adulthood, the development of the mind and the intellect. On the medicine wheel, Autumn is represented by the color Black and the Buffalo. We move into becoming an elder (or a teacher) in a strengthening of mind.

It’s the celebration of love, family, and gratitude that’s important to Thanksgiving — not some misappropriated cultural myth. Thanksgiving can be a time to recognize the bounty of what we’ve been given by Mother Earth. It can also be a time to reflect on Indigenous cultures, commemorate the atrocity of American Genocide, and recognize the truth of American history.

As Sean Sherman, founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef and the author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, recounts in a piece in Time Magazine, new ways can be forged to commemorate and appreciate the Thanksgiving holiday:

“The thing is, we do not need the poisonous ‘pilgrims and Indians’ narrative. We do not need that illusion of past unity to actually unite people today. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.

People may not realize it, but what every person in this country shares, and the very history of this nation, has been in front of us the whole time. Most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.”

So this Thanksgiving, remember what you have — thank the Great Spirit for this beautiful transcendent Earth and its revolving evolution of love.

And don’t forget to pass the sauce. Thank you.


Matt Gallagher

Matt Gallagher

Wordsmith Specialist

A freelance writer for hire, Matt Gallagher is the face and voice behind Web Copy Magician. He enjoys Bear Blend as a tea to spiritually reconnect with nature and the therapeutic wonders of chlorophyll.


  1. Burt Frederick

    Wow… a typical, one-sided, WHITE, oddball-Progressive’s veiled attempt to bring diversity and togetherness while simultaneously trashing everything, including white people in order to make a Sale.

    My take… I think perhaps I’m too white to purchase anything from this site.

    • Anthony Bear

      Hey Burt, totally get the reaction. It’s more like our attempt to reveal more of genuine history of Thanksgiving. But in reality the picture is complicated and obscured by so many layers of blurred onions. And the real history is probably much more difficult than we could imagine. Truth is that this country’s history is tainted with many different colors of ugliness. I mean years after the Puritans declared some Wampanoag tribes to have a sort of religious freedom with the “prayer towns” accord, they were conned onto boats by settlers where they were bound and shipped abroad as slaves. Here’s a video depiction

      But we aren’t saying all this to imply that being WHITE today somehow makes you automatically ugly or a slave owner or a culture thief or a cannibal. We aren’t trying to shame anyone. We are just trying to offer a different perspective of how things look might look a little different historically and have a little fun with it. But the bigger point behind this post is to take a minute to honor the giving of thanks that is connected to the harvest and the bounty of life.


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