The Nation is honoring this year’s Thanksgiving by featuring a debate over whether America should keep celebrating the national holiday or not. One side is claiming it is “steeped in colonialism, violence, and misrepresentation” and needs to be “decolonized,” while the other goes further, describing Thanksgiving as a “lie” that should be completely abolished and replaced with a “Truthsgiving,” where Americans can “give thanks by… giving land back.”
The essay, titled “Should America Keep Celebrating Thanksgiving?” and published in the left-wing magazine’s latest issue, details the positions of Lakota Chef Sean Sherman, who argues for the need to “decolonize Thanksgiving,” and indigenous activist Chase Iron Eyes, who calls for completely “replacing” Thanksgiving with a “Truthsgiving” in its stead.
Describing himself as a “proud member” of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Sherman slams the image of Thanksgiving as one of unity, where many Americans portray “Pilgrims and Indians” gathered in a “harmonious feast.”
“[T]his version obscures the harsh truth, one steeped in colonialism, violence, and misrepresentation,” he writes. “By exploring the Indigenous perspective on Thanksgiving, we can not only discern some of the nuances of decolonization but gain a deeper understanding of American history.”
This Thanskgiving, give thanks by honoring the treaties, by giving land back: support the claims of Indigenous tribes to federal and state lands that were taken from them.https://t.co/XUin9eK2Pn— The Nation (@thenation) November 22, 2023
According to Sherman, the “sanitized version” of Thanksgiving “neglects to mention the violence, land theft, and subsequent decimation of Indigenous populations,” something he asserts “causes tremendous distress to those of us who are still reeling from the trauma of these events to our communities.”
Describing Thanksgiving’s roots as “intertwined with colonial aggression,” Sherman notes that one of the first documented “Thanksgivings” followed the “colonists celebrat[ing] their massacre of an entire Pequot village.”
However, even the far-left fact checking outlet Snopes has debunked the notion of an association between Thanksgiving and the assault on the Pequots, an indigenous tribe living in present-day Connecticut, citing George Washington University Professor David Silverman who argued that “to draw the connection between that and the modern holiday is untenable.”
While Sherman does not believe in a complete “end” to Thanksgiving, he does call for a need to “decolonize” the national holiday:
That means centering the Indigenous perspective and challenging the colonial narratives around the holiday (and every other day on the calendar). By reclaiming authentic histories and practices, decolonization seeks to honor Indigenous values, identities, and knowledge. This approach is one of constructive evolution: In decolonizing Thanksgiving, we acknowledge this painful past while reimagining our lives in a more truthful manner.
Describing the “journey to decolonize” Thanksgiving as an excellent opportunity “for a broader movement to decenter colonial perspectives around the world,” the award-winning chef accuses Western colonization of having “often exhibited a complete disregard for Indigenous customs and cultures that value diversity and a harmonious relationship with the land.”
“Decolonization in this context would mean resisting the dominance of colonial influences globally and reclaiming Indigenous knowledge, values, and, of course, foodways,” he explains, noting that the “Western colonial diet has almost completely ignored the nutritional and culinary diversity of North America, just as other Indigenous cultural practices have been decimated by Eurocentric forces.”
According to Sherman, Thanksgiving can be “saved” by “investing as many resources in food production, water, land access, and education as we do in our military and bombs.”
“This Thanksgiving, let’s break the bonds of colonization and capitalism—not just on our plates but in our perspectives, too,” he writes, expressing his desire for a Thanksgiving “where I can be thankful that I live in a world where diversity is celebrated, and where every person’s connection to their food, land, and history is respected and cherished.”
“Banning histories as a righteous crusade to eradicate different opinions is wrong,” he adds, as he insists that “understanding true histories is necessary.”
Sherman concludes by pushing for a “decolonized” Thanksgiving that could “transform a holiday marred by historical amnesia into a celebration of genuine gratitude, unity, and recognition of our rich Indigenous heritage,” which would “offer a clearer lens through which to see the entire world.”
“Let us drop food and knowledge, not bombs,” he added.
In contrast, former Democratic House candidate and American Indian activist Chase Iron Eyes, who is noted for his work in the Native Lives Matter movement, offers a resolute “No!” in response to whether America should continue celebrating Thanksgiving.
“Our cherished national myth is that Thanksgiving originated with Natives welcoming friends who were fleeing religious persecution and then celebrating the harvest together,” he writes, noting that “[a]liens in a foreign land need to invent new myths and identities to provide themselves with a sense of people, purpose, and place.”
However, he notes, there is “another, more illustrative Thanksgiving story not often shared in the mainstream,” as he highlights the same 1637 raid on the Pequot noted by Sherman above.
“In this story, there is no mutual thanks; there is no giving. There is only consumption and taking,” he writes.
If one seeks to express gratitude, Iron Eyes suggests giving thanks to “Native nations who granted settlers some form of legitimacy—by entering into treaties recognizing them—to be in our homelands.”
“Those treaties recognized that Americans are now under our spiritual custody and have rights to pass through our country,” he writes. “As soon as Americans were able to impose their will on Indigenous nations, the treaties were violated.”
Claiming that “[t]hose of us who have treaties have defensible legal claims to lands that are now occupied by private American settlers under US law,” the Native American activist notes that the United States “is still not able to deliver clear title to the lands because they were illegally and unilaterally annexed by the United States.”
“We know it was not the fault of American settlers who bought the stolen land,” he writes. “But in order to promote reconciliation, we want private landowners to support the transfer of federal and state lands back to the tribal nations that have valid claims to them.”
“Give thanks by honoring the treaties, by giving land back,” he adds.
Other ways to “give thanks” that Iron Eyes lists, include “protecting” lands and waters, and thanking indigenous people for “teaching humanity that food and water are medicine,” and for “defending your natural birthrights, human rights, constitutional and other conceivable rights from corporate encroachment.”
“Give thanks to the Native nations who created the world that we inherit today,” he writes.
Instead of celebrating Thanksgiving, Iron Eyes suggests Americans learn that “60 percent of all food consumed to this day was discovered, bioengineered, and/or cultivated by Indigenous cultures in the Americas, including corn, beans, squash, and tomatoes.”
“Indigenous people developed many of the agri/horticultural practices, including raised-bed farming, still in use in the United States,” he writes.
In fact, the Sioux activist asserts, “‘American’ democracy itself was derived from observations of the Iroquois confederacy.”
In addition, he notes, “[t]o this day, the Doctrine of Discovery—the foundation of federal law permitting settlers to take possession of land they ‘discovered’—imposes a set of Christian-based ‘laws’ and institutional thinking that confines Indian existence ‘legally,’ politically, and economically.”
Iron Eyes also proclaims that “Thanksgiving is a lie in the same way Manifest Destiny is a lie: This continent was not a pristine, empty land that had yet to be put to ‘profitable’ use in the ways ‘civilized’ extractive alien economies defined it.”
With November already recognized as Native American Heritage Month, the prominent indigenous activist concludes that Thanksgiving could be “something better: a day to appreciate the truth of American history and Native Americans’ contributions to our lives.”
“Let’s tell a different story by dropping the lie of Thanksgiving and begin a Truthsgiving,” he adds.
The attack on Thanksgiving comes as many on the left continue to depict American culture, heritage, and institutions as inherently racist and oppressive.
Last year, The Nation chose to celebrate feticide in honor of Thanksgiving, while slamming the “utter disregard for all Indigenous people” in the past that “fuels the same systems of white supremacy that dehumanize all of us today.”
"When I express gratitude for my abortions, sometimes I and other @AbortionStories storytellers are met with chides from loved ones who believe that we shouldn’t be “thankful” for our abortions. But I am thankful for both of my abortions." https://t.co/N14ntuBgvS— The Nation (@thenation) November 24, 2022
Previously, the Nation published an essay accusing Americans celebrating Independence Day of failing to “reckon with the fact that the founders of our nation were colonizers,” adding that the U.S. has “rarely lived up to ideals.”
Joshua Klein is a reporter for Breitbart News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.