“Ooh, I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with the Indians!,” joked a co-worker of mine one autumn afternoon in the late 1990s. He and I were crewmates on one of my short documentary films which discussed Native Christianity among the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina, the tribe to which I belong. He was from New York City and had never been to the rural south, nor to an Indian community, and he had a whole host of notions, beginning with the idea that it was odd for Indians to celebrate Thanksgiving.
I thought he was equally odd for thinking this. I’ve known a lot of New Yorkers, and most of them don’t assume they know everything, but this friend wore that stereotype as a badge of honor. Of course, that should have been my first clue that I was going to have to un-educate him before I educated him. We were going to do a chunk of our filming over the Thanksgiving holiday, when my mother’s family had a large gathering at my grandparents’ house. It always featured our traditional Lumbee food, our family “singings” (to us, that word was not just a verb, but a noun–an event), and the parade of dozens of relatives. Why shouldn’t Indians celebrate Thanksgiving? My family reveled in its meaning, not as a national holiday that commemorated a Pilgrim fantasy, but as an actual time to give thanks. We ought to have Thanksgiving four or five times a year, at least.
Actually my friend’s statement was the first time I realized that to some people, Thanksgiving might mean the commemoration of some colonizing event. [Read the full post.]
November is Native American Heritage month. Perhaps the best way to celebrate this week would be to spend a day actually giving thanks. It’s easy to be reminded about what we’re not thankful for right now; the economy’s still crawling back to life and a lot of families’ recoveries are still yet to come. But a pat on the back, a smile for a stranger–these are things we can afford to give and are grateful to receive. So give thanks.[ed. technical note: if you’re having trouble accessing the FemCentral link and you’re on UNC’s campus, please try again from another location; it seems to be a campus-specific problem only and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it]