Ways to honor Indigenous cultures past and present

When pondering the ethics surrounding the celebration of the version of Thanksgiving we were taught in grade school, we are faced with a conundrum. Is it wrong to bring my family together to share in good food and gratitude because of the holiday’s messy origins?

Of course, how each family decides to spend the last Thursday in November is ultimately up to them, but in this piece I encourage those curious about the holiday’s roots to increase their awareness, and consider some of these suggestions if they feel empowered on Thanksgiving to dig a bit deeper. There are many ways to explore Indigenous cultures, and any work you can do to any degree to honor, celebrate and empower the Indigenous folks within our country is a big step. 

Consume media fromIndigenous creators 

This option might be the simplest, but most effective. Many folks feel anxious about joining Indigenous spaces, or might not have the time to make a whole night of education. Fortunately, we have access to a world of information right at our fingertips. From storytellers to podcasters to TikTokers, Indigenous folks are sharing their culture every day. Many content creators currently live on national reservations, and can share incredible insights that many of us never had access to before the age of social media. Take advantage of modern technology to learn about Indigenous cultures past, current, and future.

Attend Indigenous events

While some Indigenous activities are sacred and reserved for only select people, there are countless events that are open to all. These events — both in-person and virtual — aim to celebrate and share cultural awareness and understanding, and fortunately become more common each year.

The best resources when searching for an event near you can be found through a quick online search. Libraries, museums, and organizations devoted specifically to preserving and sharing Indigenous culture work hard all year round, but especially strive to provide extra resources around Thanksgiving in order to stop the spread of misinformation, and help the New England community understand our roots. Some upcoming events worth looking into include the Institute for American Indian Studies’ “Nebizun: Water is Life Gallery Talk and Exhibit Opening with Vera Longtoe Sheehan” and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center’s “Tahqôk (Autumn) FEAST! A Native Thanksgiving Buffet.” Check these events out and more this November.

Consider currentrepresentations ofIndigenous folks inmedia and society

As a country, we've fortunately been showing ongoing progress in our efforts to curtail the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes surrounding Indigenous communities. Unfortunately, there are currently hundreds of school sports teams (and even a few professional sports teams) who continue to use stereotypical, racist images of Native Americans to represent their teams. These types of microaggressions normalize the oppression of Indigenous communities, and play a part in making Indigenous culture a caricature in American society. Devoting some time to help change racially based mascots is an excellent way to help empower Indigenous communities, and can be done from the comfort of your home. Visit www.changethemascot.org for more information.

Support Indigenous rights organizers,organizations, creators 

November is a great time of year to support the Indigenous organizations who strive for equality everyday. There are so many complex issues facing these communities, but hundreds of organizations, leaders, and campaigns are dedicated to uplifting Indigenous voices, and do so constantly through their work. Organizations such as Native American Heritage Association use monetary donations to provide basic everyday necessities and self-help programs. Others, like the Native American Advancement Foundation and Association on American Indian Affairs, provide culturally relevant programming including education services, elder care, nutrition classes, and reservation rescue and preservation. Even locally, Connecticut’s Mohegan Tribe grants scholarships to worthy recipients each year, and supports numerous nonprofits annually. 

If you’re looking to donate, researching a few nonprofits and donating to those whose values align most with your own is a simple yet effective way to chip in. Closer to home, Connecticut has a small but mighty circuit of Indigenous activists, crafters, and community leaders who always appreciate support. On the weekend days between Nov. 26 through Dec. 11, The Institute for American Indian Studies will host its Annual Holiday Market featuring Indigenous vendors. Visit this fantastic recurring event to speak with artists and learn about traditional art and contemporary adaptations. If you’re looking to make a difference in your own community, the quickest and most effective way to do so is to support local creatives.

This November, revel in goodness, grateful attitudes, and open-mindedness. If you have time to learn more about the complex cultures at Thanksgiving’s core, reflect on all the incredible histories that make New England the glorious region we love today.

Francesca Fontánez is a Meriden based journalist, educator, and creative. A graduate of both the University of New Haven and the University of Bridgeport, she is happy to be back in Meriden writing about the city she loves and surrounding areas. When she’s not teaching ELA at Washington Middle School she’s either exploring the Eastern seaboard for her lifestyle blog (@ east_side_vibes_ on Instagram) or working on music for her band, Cessa and The Zach. Email Francesca at eastsidevibeswithcess@gmail.com.


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