How to Honor Indigenous Communities This Thanksgiving

ways to give back to indigenous people

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to practice gratitude and celebrate our friends and family with an oversized turkey and far too many side dishes.

But for millions of Indigenous people, this holiday is anything but joyous; it’s an annual reminder of the genocide and colonization of their ancestors that began centuries ago.

In fact, many have deemed the day the National Day of Mourning to remember the horrific genocide that occurred.

The tradition began in 1970 when a Wampanoag leader, Wamsutta Frank James, was asked to speak at a Massachusetts Thanksgiving celebration to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. However, after reviewing his speech before the event, the organizers insisted that he rewrite it (you can read his original speech here).

As a result, a group of 200 Native Americans walked out in protest. The National Day of Mourning has been recognized ever since.

While you gather with your family and friends this year, remember that there are millions in this country who have been persecuted, displaced, and oppressed for centuries. Here are five small ways you can honor them.

1. Re-Educate Yourself on the True History of Thanksgiving

Early European travelers introduced diseases that led to an epidemic amongst Native Americans living in coastal communities, including the Wampanoag Tribe.

When the Pilgrims first arrived at Plymouth via the Mayflower in 1620, they were entirely unprepared and raided Native American graves for corn and beans.

The Pilgrims and Wampanoag Tribe, desperate to survive the winter, forged a tentative alliance — lessons on how to till the earth exchanged for European weapons to fight off the Wampanoag enemy, the Narragansett.

In 1621, a three-day festival was held to celebrate a successful harvest with members of both groups in attendance. This celebration is considered the first “Thanksgiving.”

16 years after the festival, an entire Pequot village was burnt to the ground by the Puritans because the settlers believed the Wampanoag people had killed one of their own.

It wasn’t until 1863, after a Union Army victory at Gettysburg, that Abraham Lincoln, a President with a questionable relationship with Indigenous people, decided that the fourth Thursday would be the national holiday Thanksgiving.

2. Know Whose Land You’re Living On

Native Land Digital’s map lets you enter your address and discover which Indigenous tribe originally lived on that land. Take a moment to learn about them and acknowledge that they did not choose to leave; they were forcibly displaced.

what native land do i live on

3. Support Land Restitution

One of the most meaningful things non-native people can do is support efforts to return historic land back to Indigenous hands.

On July 9, 2020, the United States Supreme Court voted to uphold a treaty that promised a permanent home to the Creek Nation, confirming the boundaries of the 3 million acres in Oklahoma.


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Deb Haaland’s work as the Interior Secretary is placing more federal land into trusts to simplify the process for tribes to reacquire their land.

You can donate time or money to LANDBACK, a movement for restorative justice and land reclamation. Currently, this campaign is focused on closing Mount Rushmore and returning the Black Hills and surrounding sacred land in South Dakota to Indigenous people.

4. Shop at Native-Owned Businesses

In 2009, President Obama signed a resolution designating the day after Thanksgiving to be The Native American Heritage Day.

Unfortunately, this day, dedicated to recognizing the sacrifices and contributions of Indigenous people, falls on the most aggressive shopping day of the year.

Avoid capitalistic consumerism and instead redirect your wallet towards these stunning Native-owned brands. Or pick up an Indigenous-authored book at an Indigenous-owned bookstore.

5. Support Future Indigenous Leaders

Indigenous people represent 1% of the overall United States undergraduate population. And yet only 19% of Indigenous young adults aged 18-24 are enrolled in secondary education compared to 41% of the United States population.

Support their future leaders by donating to the American Indian College Fund, a fund that supports 35 accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities, or consider gifting a scholarship or grant to help provide financial support for Indigenous students.


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Jenilee Daw
Jenilee is a freelance writer who lives in Bend, Oregon. When she's not dancing around her kitchen with her son, she can be found binge-watching any and all Bravo franchises.