UGA Native American Community Reflects On Thanksgiving Traditions | Campus News

While Thanksgiving is a time of family and food for some, it is often accompanied by cultural appropriation and unsavory depictions of Native American culture. The holiday has been criticized for celebrating the beginnings of European colonization in America.

The Red & Black spoke to a few members of the Indigenous community at the University of Georgia about their take on both this holiday and its troubled past, and how it can be adjusted to recognize Indigenous peoples and their history.

“I think it’s really important to mention one thing is that a lot of Native Americans have married Europeans since the French arrived, even before the British,” said Mary-Jo Eden, a student. in second year of art which identifies as an ancestral Cherokee. Eden said that this history of mixed marriages throughout the history of the United States has led to a wide range of opinions about vacations among Indigenous people.

For Eden, her family is reconstituted, her grandfather being Cherokee and her grandmother having immigrated from Italy. As a result, she says her family is celebrating Thanksgiving.

However, the darker side of history is never forgotten. Eden said the time was used to celebrate and be grateful that her family are still alive to carry on her tribe’s legacy, a gift that many Native Americans did not receive from the colonizers. It is this bitter truth that, according to Eden, leads some families to choose to skip the holidays together to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead.

Indigenous Peoples Day is traditionally held on the second Monday in October and has gained popularity as an alternative to the celebration of Columbus Day. In 2021, President Biden became the first US President to officially recognize the holiday, which celebrates the history and culture of Indigenous peoples.

LeAnne Howe, director of the UGA’s Institute of Native American Studies, has a similar take on how she celebrates with her family as a Choctaw from southeastern Oklahoma.

“Our family has always seized the opportunity together… we have vacations and we get together so we’re no different that way, but we’ve never forgotten the fact that we should get together in our home countries” , Howe said.

Howe said it wasn’t until she left Oklahoma that she realized the extent of what Native Americans endured. She grew up in the heart of the Chickasaw Nation and has been surrounded by large Indigenous communities her entire life.

Howe said the intertribal community’s legacy is one she strives to carry on each year until Thanksgiving by uniting her family – which includes members of the Cherokee, Apache, Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes – in the home of his grandmother in Oklahoma.

Howe even said she enjoyed seeing other Americans celebrate food and family each year, seeing it as an extension of Native American traditions that occurred during the harvest. The common act of sharing food within a community has roots in Native American tradition. Howe said she only hopes to see recognition of the origins of these traditions.

However, there is another side to Thanksgiving besides food and family and that is the business side, which tends to present inappropriate representations of Indigenous culture.

“I don’t know if anyone else has seen them before, but I have seen the salt and pepper shakers,” said Hannah Hamrick, a major junior in history who identifies as half white and half Shoshone. “They were just a little inappropriate, but one was a little pilgrim man, then the other was a little Indian woman and it’s just stuff like that.”

While the relationship between European settlers and indigenous peoples cannot be generalized, the arrival of the pilgrims in Plymouth accelerated the already ongoing process of European colonization in America. According to, shortly after the first Thanksgiving, war broke out between European settlers and the native inhabitants of what is now New England.

Hamrick is embarrassed by these portrayals of harmony between settlers and Native American figures, as she feels it sells a fictionalized version of the Thanksgiving story that is not factual. Additionally, depictions of Indigenous people wearing headdresses, moccasins, deerskin clothing, etc., are offensive, Hamrick said, as they perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes.

Eden expressed a similar sentiment when explaining that the Cherokee, the tribe to which she belongs, does not wear feathers. Most of the stereotypical representations of Native American culture are based on the natives of the Western Plains, Eden said. She said lumping all tribes together under one portrayal is not only inaccurate, but offensive.

“I always tell my friends if it’s even about being offensive, you better not even participate,” Eden said.

Some indigenous peoples also believe that the way history is taught in schools must change as well. Hamrick and Eden both noted how, growing up, they were fed a rhetoric of peaceful pilgrim-native relations, a portrayal that rears children with an incorrect view of history.

“It’s not just happiness and joy, let’s all eat a turkey together because we’re friends now,” Eden said. “I think the children can hear what the indigenous people went through. “

Eden compared it to the Bible stories she was taught as a young child in church, stories that often told dark themes of betrayal and death. If the children are not too young to hear these kinds of tales, then Eden believes that they are also not too young to start learning the real story of what happened to the indigenous people.

“It’s a scary and terrifying thing from the perspective of indigenous peoples, and I think their side of the story is not being told because they didn’t have a written language and they were all over the place. way considered inferior ”said Eden.

Hamrick, on the other hand, believes that telling the violent side of the story, at least to young children, is not necessary in order to be able to teach a more accurate version of events.

“Be sensitive to the kids and keep it rated G, but just make sure they know it wasn’t a happy time for everyone involved,” Hamrick said. “I think it’s a good time for education and I think people are starting to open their eyes to the issues surrounding Thanksgiving… if you have a question, find someone and ask your question respectfully.”

As an educator herself, Howe agrees that it is important for history to be taught appropriately, a way that tells the stories of those who are often swept aside. Howe advocates for schools to bring in a member of their local tribe to talk to the children, to tell real Indigenous stories of a member of that community.

“That’s what I think people should do is try to get to know your old neighbors or your neighbors who might come back,” Howe said, seeing this as an opportunity to build community.

Overall, they shared the common feeling that no matter how people may celebrate the holiday, they should remember the people who were here first and respect the fact that many modern traditions come from indigenous peoples.

“In the 21st century, you can take this day to thank and recognize family and unity,” said Hamrick, “but also recognize the challenges this community had to face in order to make this happen.”

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