Every year as I honour Thanksgiving, I’m mindful of the complicated history that accompanies it – and in particular the legacy of pain for indigenous folks in America.
I find myself sitting square in the middle of this contradiction. I want to hold space for this holiday’s tangled past – and it seems to me, with each passing year, that more and more when we scratch the surface imbued with the golden glow of nostalgia, there are darker things lurking beneath.
Still in my own personal history, Thanksgiving holds a precious place. I always think of it as my mother’s favourite holiday – one that is about family and gratitude.
Remembering her talking about it, what stands out to me is the feeling of inclusion.
This is not a religious holiday – one that by definition excludes nonbelievers even as it honours tradition. It does not rely on specific objects or actions. Yes – the turkey feast is emblematic, but I always think one of the great treats is seeing how different generations of immigrants have made this meal their own. It is mutable – evolving and full of potential.
In my mother’s Thanksgiving, all that is really required is an open heart full of gratitude for life and for each other. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m aware that this is the view through a child’s eyes. Now that I am an adult, different realities and histories are layered. But that sense of love and connection is still precious to me, and I’m loath to write it off, even though I now see through wiser eyes.
As we talk to our own daughter, I find myself wondering how to on one hand share the values I think make up the best of what America is as a nation – while at the same time making space for old harms to be acknowledged and addressed.
Many of these are issues that will take a lifetime to reckon with – and certainly go beyond the attention span of a three-year-old.
So I find myself asking: how do I model honouring this holiday?
It is a truth and a tragedy that many so-called ‘minority’ groups must grapple with being externally defined by their legacies of pain – ignoring the full reality of these cultures and all the bits that deserve to be embraced and celebrated.
When I wanted to reflect on the incredible richness of Indian/Native American culture, and the perfect thing came to mind:
This is – in a perfect bit of parallelism – another legacy of my mother’s within my life.
Always passionate about music, she has opened my eyes to so many artists and traditions. She is the one who introduced me to this documentary charting the influence of Native Americans on American music, and particularly rock and roll.
Watching this film – and the incredible performers it depicts – is an incredible celebration of the way these cultures have enriched and shaped the soundtrack of American music in ways that have gone unseen and unacknowledged.
It’s a fascinating and well-deserved tribute. And somehow, it feels like the perfect way of honouring indigenous culture on this day.
I feel like traditions often creep up on us – happening over and over again until we suddenly realise they have become essential components of our lives. And who knows what next year will bring, but I love the idea of consciously trying to make this an ongoing tradition.
And on that note – if you’re thinking about what you’d like to do after the turkey has been eaten and the dishes are washed – I would really recommend thinking about supporting indigenous filmmakers by buying/streaming this film. It’s really an incredible piece of work, and full of warmth and appreciation for these Native artists.
While a small gesture, I think every effort we take to rebalance the scales of life and history within our own hearts is a step towards a better and kinder future. That is something I would be truly thankful for.