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Native Americans want to decolonize Thanksgiving with native foods and a proper history lesson

Muckleshoot tribe's Valerie Segrest's Thanksgiving feast of cranberry rosehip sauce, fire roasted venison, chinook salmon, and fresh huckleberry pie is all locally sourced or foraged. (Photo courtesy of Valerie Segrest)

In elementary school, the November curriculum was tracing our hands onto brown construction paper to make a turkey and learning the story of Thanksgiving.

“The pilgrims and Indians narrative where they’re all happy, sitting around the table enjoying food together,” said University of Oregon student Jorney Baldwin, a member of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw tribes.

Baldwin is the co-facilitator of a campus counseling center event called “Thanks But No Thanksgiving: Decolonizing an American Holiday.”

“To decolonize Thanksgiving is not to take away Thanksgiving,” Baldwin explained. “It’s just to bring education into it, inform people what actually happened on that day, and acknowledge the land that you’re on. Maybe bring different indigenous foods to your meal.”

For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving means more than just turkey, stuffing, and football.

“My family celebrates Thanksgiving, but in a completely different perspective,” Baldwin said. “We celebrate being together, having gratitude toward one another, but we don’t celebrate the history. It’s a National Day of Mourning for many Native Americans, and lots of us do not even celebrate Thanksgiving.”

For Enumclaw’s Valerie Segrest, a member of the Muckleshoot tribe and a native foods nutritionist, it’s a day to celebrate with the same local foods her ancestors ate.

“This year, I am strongly focused on making sure that Native American farmers, ranchers, and fisherman are represented on my table,” Segrest said. “The indianagfoods.org website is a crazy rich directory of all kinds of Native American food producers and their products that are available online. So I’ve got salmon that my husband has caught from Elliott Bay, I’ve got cranberries that I harvested from Grayland, squash that came from my garden, rose hips that came from my medicine garden.”

“We’re in the most abundant, rich, tasty foodscape; I get hungry just driving down the road,” she added. “On a clear day when Mount Rainier is out, I just want to eat it! It’s so delicious looking to me.”

But Segrest and her family also roast a turkey, a meal that dips into both their worlds.

“When I hear the word ‘decolonize’ I think about what makes colonizing successful, which is the erasure and invisibility of a certain people that existed in history and play a really significant role, but are often overlooked,” Segrest said. “So promoting the visibility of traditions, and culture, and history is the work of decolonizing.”

Recent University of Oregon graduate Dakota MacColl created the presentation for the “Thanks But No Thanksgiving” event. She says not everyone understands their message.

“We actually got a threat the first time we did this event and so we had extra security in the building because there was a huge misconception,” MacColl said. “I think the main thing people think of when they hear the word ‘decoloniziation’ next to ‘Thanksgiving,’ they think, ‘I like these traditions! I want to keep making the Indians and the turkeys [in school].’ And we’re not saying you have to stop. There’s this misconception, with kind of good reason, that native and indigenous people are angry about the way that Thanksgiving is presented.”

“[Indigenous people are] presented in schools as if they aren’t here, as if they’re not living,” MacColl added. “This is my third year doing this event, and we’re not trying to cancel anything, we’re not trying to attack anyone. We just want to broaden your horizons and wonder what we can all do at our Thanksgiving table during this holiday to be reflective in a positive and forward way. It’s not some big cancellation as Fox News might have said a couple years ago.”

Everyone is welcome to attend the virtual event this Thursday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m.

Click here to find links to Native American food producers. To find out what tribal land you’re living on, text your zip code or your city and state (separated by a comma) to 907-312-5085.

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