Nov 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

The rise of Thankstaking

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe, Katie McTiernan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

"Thankstaking," the Native American-influenced alternative to Thanksgiving, has become more noticeable in the U.S. amid a racial reckoning.

Why it matters: Indigenous tribes in recent years have been asserting their sovereignty around water rights, criminal justice and political representation. Thanksgiving, where Indigenous people are the center of a national myth, is also a target.

Details: Indigenous activists, scholars and artists are using the hashtag #thankstaking in November to bring attention to land theft, removal and the exclusion of Native American history in schools.

  • It's a play off the word centering giving thanks to one acknowledging theft — of land, culture and history.

Zoom in: Native Americans say the Thanksgiving myth glosses over the decades of horrific violence imposed on Indigenous tribes after a three-day feast between Pilgrims and the Wampanoags.

  • Some use Thankstaking, sometimes referred to as Truthgiving, as a call to donate to Indigenous nonprofits.
  • Others use it to spread humorous memes and informative videos about Indigenous history.

Background: The modern Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. commemorates the 1621 three-day feast between Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, though historians debate what happened and what was eaten on those days.

  • President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day celebration at the height of the Civil War to "heal the wounds of the nation." Indigenous scholars point out that Lincoln at the same time was engaged in a violent campaign to remove Native Americans.
  • Schools introduced the Thanksgiving story to children without discussing the violence that followed, and often encouraged students to make cut-out, paper Indigenous headdresses — which some find offensive.

What they're saying: "Thanksgiving is nothing but government propaganda," Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of the Indigenous advocacy group IllumiNative, told Axios.

  • Echo Hawk, an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation, said Indigenous people are tired of the romantic version of Thanksgiving and old stereotypes of Native Americans.
  • "Real talk: The pilgrims would have died if we didn't help out. Thankstaking is an opportunity to underline...that after the first Thanksgiving, we just didn't disappear like some forest ghosts," TV writer Joey Clift, a member of the Cowlitz Tribe, told Axios.

Between the lines: Thankstaking has its roots in the National Day of Mourning, which was launched in 1970.

  • National Day of Mourning became an annual event and coincided with Un-Thanksgiving Day — a similar ceremony held on Alcatraz Island in California.
  • Un-Thanksgiving Day commemorates the 1969 Occupation of Alcatraz by Indigenous activists who wanted to bring attention to genocide.

What's next: IllumiNative has launched Good Relatives, an online campaign exploring "the diversity, beauty, and resiliency of Native peoples in the 21st century." The kickoff film is titled, "Setting the Table."

  • Clift has released a humorous digital short, "Six things you didn't learn about Native American people in high school," to counter stereotypes. Among the most common: Indigenous people have magical powers.
  • "If a grown adult. who went to college and lives in a major metropolitan area, asks another fellow adult, if they can turn into a wolf when the full moon comes around... there's nothing that you could do except laugh."
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