My family's Thanksgiving on the reservation is a rebuke to America's colonialism by Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota)
When I was a little kid, I was unaware that I am the bastard child of colonisation, born into a reality in which I’ll spend my entire life combating the way the world views me based on propaganda like national sports mascots and tales of the first thanksgiving.
As an adult, Thanksgiving is just more colonialist propaganda masquerading as history – and a day that represents hundreds of years of genocide, persecution and oppression of our people.
So I love the version of the Thanksgiving story in the movie Addams FamilyValues, because I get to see the Indians win.
In the summer camp play depicting the first thanksgiving, all the blond, white kids in their Western hegemonic glory are cast as the Pilgrims. The outcasts of the summer camp – the black, brown and disabled kids – are cast as the Indians, with Wednesday Addams as Pocahontas (despite the fact that the Wampanoags were the first to come into contact with the Pilgrims, and Pocahantas was Powhatan). During the performance, Wednesday disregards the script, gives a speech about the impending colonization the Pilgrims will bring, proclaiming, “The Gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said ‘Do not trust the Pilgrims’” – and then leads a revolt and burns the Pilgrim village to the ground.
I love this scene because the cultural appropriation and racist dialogue usually used in portrayals of Indigenous people on thanksgiving is absent. I was taken in by the illusion that we were finally triumphant – if only in a made-up play, in a movie about a strange, fictional family.
My family is Sicangu Lakota, and I was born and raised on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. My family was in no way wealthy, but we were lucky enough to have food on our table when we got together at my grandma’s house to eat every day. My mother taught me to give thanks for the things we have every day, because that’s what Lakotas do.
As a 25-year-old Lakota hip-hop artist, I celebrate life by creating new, true representations for the next generation to look up to instead of make-believe ones. I celebrate life by using my art to speak on indigenous resistance and the injustices indigenous people suffer.
But living on the reservation as a child, the colonialism the holiday represents never occurred to me as we came together every Thanksgiving. I grew up spending every Thanksgiving eating, laughing and spending time with my family.
I now see the historical subtext behind the holiday, and the way some Indigenous folks, including my family, have appropriated the day as a time to celebrate our life. On Thanksgiving, we aren’t celebrating the Mayflower landing in the New World or the systematic genocide that decimated Native populations. We’re enjoying a meal no different than any other meal in our house, but with a little extra food on the table that day. Lakota people don’t need a national holiday to come together as family to eat and give thanks.
But I have a lot of respect for the Indigenous folks who refuse to observe the “holiday” in any way, shape or form.
Because there are more than 560 federally-recognized tribes (and many more unrecognized) in the US alone, I can’t speak for all Indigenous people – their views on Thanksgiving are as varied as their cultures, languages, and traditions.
My family getting together to eat and celebrate our lives on a day that represents the genocide of our ancestors and culture is, in its own way, a “fuck you” to colonialisation. America’s colonial project failed. We’re still here, and we’re keeping our ceremonies and traditions alive. We’re still speaking our languages. We’re living our culture. I’m alive and I know what it means to be Lakota. For that, I give thanks every day.