The Importance of Indigenous Culture at the Table

The essence of Thanksgiving in the United States continues to draw questions about the true importance of the holiday season. Not only is it a time to sit around the table with family and friends over a shared meal, but it is also a time that separates our collective memory of Indigenous culture; a community that has a turbulent history with the holiday. 

Typically, we imagine a group of Pilgrims in Massachusetts gathered together in 1621. With aid from American Indians, the Pilgrims began to learn how to navigate the New World, and celebrated this newfound relationship with a feast (i.e. Thanksgiving). 

But, this traditional tale discounts the nuance found in the origins of this communal event. Although we cherish the time spent with friends and family, and the delicious food that comes along with it, there is an opportunity to approach this upcoming holiday with a genuine care and interest for Indigenous peoples – and the environment. 

According to Insider, “A recently renewed focus on racial justice in the US has some people saying it’s time to reevaluate the meaning and celebration of Thanksgiving. Teachers, professors, and Native Americans told The New York Times that they were rethinking the holiday that has marginalized the US’s violence and cruelty against Native Americans.” 

Our skewed picture of the events that took place on the first Thanksgiving does not accurately represent the relationship between English migrants and Indigenous peoples. The story that we have been told neglects the effect of colonization on Native lands and the mistreatment of Native communities in the colonial era. 

For more information on the accurate tale of the ‘First Thanksgiving,’ check out this article from Time

Now, let’s begin to reflect upon how we can integrate Native perspectives at the dinner table, and combine elements of sustainability to provide a feast that positively impacts our ecosystems and those that live amongst it.

The Possibility to Make Thanksgiving More Sustainable 

According to The Indianapolis Public Library, “Indigenous Peoples in America recognize Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. It is a time to remember ancestral history as well as a day to acknowledge and protest the racism and oppression which they continue to experience today.” 

This relationship between Indigenous history and Thanksgiving should compel all of us to invest our time and resources in the preservation of Native culture. If we plan to indulge in the tradition of the holiday, we must also consider the importance of the Indigenous identity that is an integral part of this particular moment. 

Here are a few recommendations that will enable you to recognize and celebrate the heritage of Native peoples, according to an article by Vice

  • Research the Native tribes that are indigenous to your area. There are several online maps that allow you to locate Native land and understand their cultural history. 
  • Donate to local and national organizations that directly support Indigenous people. Some of these organizations are The American Indian College Fund and the American Indian Business Leaders. 
  • Buy directly from Native-owned businesses to purchase ingredients or other products to use in Thanksgiving recipes. 
  • Hold conversations with family and friends about the relation between Native peoples and Thanksgiving, and begin to detach former associations that have been made in regard to how it came to be. 
  • Find out if there are legislative efforts or state programs that are in motion to aid Indigenous groups. If so, think of effective methods that you can use to advertise, campaign and advocate for these initiatives (i.e. social media). 

Beyond our responsibility to educate ourselves and others of Indigenous culture in the context of Thanksgiving, there are further actions that can be taken to promote a holiday feast that also commemorates our environment. 

It all begins with how you stock your pantry ahead of the date. 

A grand assortment of food dishes on the dining room table is an aspect of the holiday that carries harsh implications on the overall condition of our planet – and even our local communities. 

To take part in the wave of sustainability this season, here are a few recommendations that will allow you to host a Thanksgiving dinner that is environmentally friendly. 

Avoid Excess Food Waste 

According to Grove Collaborative, food waste in the United States “Increases by as much as 25 percent during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.” Nearly 200 million pounds of food is thrown out each year, and this contributes to an extensive carbon footprint that can further accelerate greenhouse gas emissions. 

To mitigate this, make a list of guests that you are planning to invite and understand the amount of food that you will need for those attending. A list of either individuals or food items can help you optimize preparation time. In addition, if guests bring prepared dishes, make note of these items to avoid similar meals. 

Encourage Guests to Participate 

Thanksgiving is a momentous occasion that allows you to cherish the company of close relatives and friends. To encourage aspects of sustainability, prompt guests to bring prepared food items in reusable containers. As opposed to disposable ones, reusable containers can hold leftovers; a perfect way to send guests off with appetizing recipes, and decrease the number of items in your fridge that could go to waste. 

Find Recipes That Can Re-Purpose Ingredients 

Multiple recipes call for similar ingredients or food items. If you notice that you can use an ingredient in another dish, plan to do so. This is an optimal solution to limit the amount of food waste that is produced and save money on how much food is bought before Thanksgiving Day. 

Create Menu Options That Represent Your Culture 

This time with family and friends is a personal occasion that can involve your own heritage or cultural identity. Whether you want to share a family recipe or a cultural dish, use this holiday as a time to appreciate the aspects of yourself that make you unique. 

Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to authentically express who you are, and it is a celebratory holiday that can prompt you to reflect on the significance of your personal story – in the company of those that you love.

Thanksgiving Day is right around the corner and we hope that these recommendations serve as inspiration for you to make it an environmentally conscious holiday. These tips are just a part of the effort to adjust our mindset around the day. 

For more resources on the relationship between Native peoples and Thanksgiving, check out the links below.