Did you need recommendations to get the colonizing out of your Thanksgiving? If so, Lewis Ferebee has come to the rescue.
Ferebee, the chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s school system, issued a public letter to parents and families Tuesday titled “Sharing My Gratitude.” It was originally sent to those in the D.C. Public Schools community the previous Thursday, but his gratitude was indeed too precious not to share with a wider audience.
There were two paragraphs of gratitude, it must be said. Some of it was even laudable.
“Every moment I spend in our schools, I am struck by joyful learning happening. I am inspired by the warmth of our educators and the curiosity of our students,” Ferebee wrote. “I am grateful for the hard work of all our staff, and the support of our families. Thank you to each of you.”
So much for all of that. After a few photos of students in the D.C. school system — none of which was particularly Thanksgiving-centric, for whatever it’s worth — we went on to the usual spiel about COVID safety, boosters and how “we can help keep our community safe by getting vaccinated, limiting our travel, and avoiding high risk environments.”
And then we got onto the section you’ll need if you’re for a colonizer-free Thanksgiving this year: “Recognizing the History of the Holiday.”
“Thanksgiving is a day that can be difficult for many to celebrate as we reflect on the history of the holiday and the horrors inflicted on our indigenous populations,” Ferebee wrote. “If you celebrate, our Equity team has shared resources for how you can consider decolonizing your Thanksgiving. ” [Emphasis in the original.]
Make sure to write these down, people. He’s the Butterball Hotline for wokeness, I daresay.
First, Ferebee said that for those hosting Thanksgiving dinner, “consider doing a land acknowledgment.” A land acknowledgement, according to a linked page from the Native Governance Center, involves acknowledging things such as “[t]he Indigenous people to whom the land belongs,” “[t]he history of the land and any related treaties” and “[c]orrect pronunciation for the names of the Tribes, places, and individuals that you’re including.”
“Don’t sugarcoat the past. Use terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing, stolen land, and forced removal to reflect actions taken by colonizers,” the Native Governance Center says.
But it doesn’t have to be a bummer!
“Land acknowledgments shouldn’t be grim,” it stresses. “They should function as living celebrations of Indigenous communities. Ask yourself, ‘How am I leaving Indigenous people in a stronger, more empowered place because of this land acknowledgment?’ Focus on the positivity of who Indigenous people are today.”
Acknowledge genocide, focus on positivity. Got that?
Next thing, do your reading on decolonizing turkey day. Thankfully (pun unintended), Ferebee has linked two listicles and some book recommendations for both adults and children.
One listicle by Alexis Bunten at Bioneers only has three tips to decolonize your Thanksgiving, so we’ll go with that. (The other, with eight tips, includes an exhortation to “End Racist Native Mascots in Sports” — a heavy item to check off your decolonizing to-do list on just one Thursday in November, if you ask me.)
First: “Combat erasure by telling the real story of Thanksgiving around the table.”
Erasure is, for example, not telling how “Wampanoag peoples had already been decimated by disease introduced by European traders by the time of the first Thanksgiving, how they had been stolen and sold as slaves back in Europe, or how their graves were robbed of precious seeds to go with them to the afterlife by starving Pilgrims whose old world seeds would not grow in the new land.”
Second: “Re-center Thanksgiving by serving locally sourced food.”
We’ve de-centered Thanksgiving by only focusing on East Coast Native Americans, Bunten wrote (her family is from an Aleut and Yup’ik Eskimo town in Alaska, where European contact first happened in 1741) — so the key to de-colonization is buying foods grown locally for your Thanksgiving meal, for reasons never fully explained.
“Our Thanksgiving meal was comprised of organic foods, indigenous to North America! After a starter of squash soup, we feasted on roast duck with wild rice stuffing, cranberry sauce, chestnuts, and micro-greens salad,” Bunten wrote.
So essentially, an organic, locavore version of roughly the same meal everyone who chooses duck over turkey is going to have. Take that, colonizers!
Finally: “Address oppression by widening your circle. Ask someone outside your usual group of friends and family what Thanksgiving means to them.”
She describes a dinner where she was “joined by guests of different ages, ethnicities, religions and political views who grew up across the United States.” Unless I see a picture of someone in a MAGA hat or a Federalist Society T-shirt, I’m going to throw a challenge flag on there being a representative distribution of political views at that table.
We’ve already digested enough wokeness to take in for one holiday, I feel, but if you want to buy a copy of “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer ($29.99 at Barnes and Noble) or “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story” for your preschooler ($12.68 at Amazon), I mean, they’re there.
Just so we’re clear, then, here’s the Lewis Ferebee primer for parents decolonizing your holiday, as assembled from the links he helpfully provided:
- Acknowledge the land you’re currently sitting on was stolen.
- Make sure to use appropriate terms, such as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.”
- But don’t be a downer about it!
- Tell the real story about Thanksgiving during dinner, the one about genocide ‘n’ stuff — because, rest assured, your kids haven’t heard enough of it in D.C. Public Schools.
- Re-center the holiday by eating a locally sourced meal. (I don’t know how this works to decolonize the holiday, but it does.)
- Invite someone outside your circle to the dinner table — even those with different political views. Everyone on the political spectrum should be represented, from liberals on the right to progressives in the center and unreconstructed communists on the left.
- Buy some stuff from one of America’s two largest book conglomerates. (Remember that “locally sourced” piffle? Yeah, forget it.)
There, in brief, is your guide on decolonizing your Thanksgiving and/or why D.C. Public Schools is such a hot mess.
You’re welcome, America.
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