-Aris Garcia, PJC Volunteer Coordinator & Assistant Store Manager

As holidays from various cultures approach, we in one way or another are preparing for the coming together of family, both biological and chosen. The tradition here in the United States is to celebrate the holiday known as “Thanksgiving” which is a false narrative of the Pilgrim and Native interactions in the 16th and 17th centuries. I’m sure you were taught the stories and were made to choose who you would end up representing in the reenactment of the first “thanksgiving dinner.” If you were like me, then you were automatically looked at to be the “chief” unless there was a male in the room who “looked more Indian.” Of course, it was supposed to be received as a “great honor.” This is coded racism — a reminder that my people should be thankful for the genocide we were made to endure.

I am a young biracial woman who is proud to practice in my Indigenous Lakota ways. I grew up attending predominantly white schools where I was taught that same history of Thanksgiving. All while hearing my grandmother’s oral history of our people. I remember being confused, thinking to myself, “Why does no one understand the pain that swells in my heart when we talk about this holiday?” I remember the lessons I have been taught all my life and all through the year about the importance of family, community, and what a gift it is to be of service to the ones we love and who choose to love us in return.

In most native communities the act of giving is an honor. At the end of many Lakota ceremonies, there is what we call a “give away”. This is a way for tribe or community leaders to thank the village or community for supporting and participating in ceremony. These give away ceremonies are a time for thoughtful reflection of the lessons and prayers that were put into that ceremony. In short, it is our tradition to be thankful every day. We do not reserve our gratitude for a single day of the year, rather practice it daily.

Now, this isn’t to say that my family doesn’t participate in a feast at this time of year, we do, we just do it differently! As I mentioned before, being of service to your community is the ultimate way to be thankful. For as long as I can remember, my family has chosen to ignore the euro-centric “Thanksgiving Day” and has instead focused on serving both literally and figuratively the community that supports our work at Kunsi Keya. We cook turkeys, fry bread, and wozapi (a berry compote) among other American favorites. We honor that our community is made up of many types of people and we aim to be inclusive. We pray and speak of the genocide that our people experienced, and we offer ways to celebrate differently.

This time of year, I often get asked by people who mean well what they can do to honor the true history of this time. My response is always the same: pray for all our ancestors, remember them, and speak the real history back into memory. Education is key and understanding how your family was either complicit or impacted by these “Thanksgiving Feasts” will begin to heal the generational traumas we have all endured. Enjoy your family, be present with them. We are Creators’ greatest gift to each other.


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