Truthsgiving: Practices to Unsettle & Re-Imagine Thanksgiving

The path to reconciliation starts with honest acknowledgement of our past, with open eyes, and open hearts for a better future. It is time for us to be in good relation with one another. We can do that by learning and unlearning how to give thanks in a good way."

Matika Wilbur & Adrienne Keene from All My Relations Podcast



What is Truthsgiving?


Truthsgiving is a concept coined by Indigenous activist Christine Nobiss whose work with Seeding Sovereignty focuses on dismantling colonial-imperialist institutions, and replacing them with Indigenous practices created in synchronicity with the land. To learn more about and to support her work, please visit www.seedingsovereignty.org.


"Truthsgiving is an ideology that must be enacted through truth telling and mutual aid to discourage colonized ideas about the thanksgiving mythology—not a name switch so we can keep doing the same thing. It’s about telling and doing the truth on this day so we can stop dangerous stereotypes and whitewashed history from continuing to harm Indigenous lands and Peoples, as well as Black, Latinx, Asian-American and all oppressed folks on Turtle Island."
- Truthsgiving Collective

In the words of the Truthsgiving Collective...


"The idea of Truthsgiving did not emerge from anything new. Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island have been resisting this mythology since its inception, even when they did not know about it, simply because we have resisted colonization and genocide since Columbus set foot on the lands of the Lucayan People (now known as the Bahamas).

Modern resistance to the holiday began during the rise of the Red Power movement during the civil rights era... [and] there are also many other resistance events held all over Turtle Island every year through Indigenous-led organizations and family gatherings where the mythology is overridden. That is how Truthsgiving emerged--as a family gathering to resist Thanksgiving that then turned into local celebrations in Iowa City, organized by Great Plains Action Society founder, Sikowis."



National Day of Mourning


The National Day of Mourning is an annual Indigenous-led decolonial gathering held on the fourth Thursday in November which aims to educate the public and lift the veil of ignorance around the history of colonization and to dispel myths surrounding the Thanksgiving narrative in the US; and raise awareness toward historical and ongoing struggles facing Native American tribes.


According to Sikowis in this article ...

Thanksgiving Suppressed Speech Of Wamsutta, Wampanoag (1970)

“In 1970, the National Day of Mourning was instituted by James, the United American Indians of New England, and the local Wampanoag community as a resistance to Thanksgiving. This alternative holiday is held at Plymouth Rock and has occurred annually for almost 50 years. The National Day of Mourning also coincides with an event on the other side of the country that takes place on Alcatraz Island (an important Native American site). Unthanksgiving Day, also known as The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony, is a large cultural event that has been held annually since 1975 and commemorates the Alcatraz-Red Power Movement occupation of 1969. There are, in fact, many anti-Thanksgiving events that occur around the country each year — one of which I have co-organized, called Truthsgiving.”


Read the Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James that was to be delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970.

The Massachusetts Department of Commerce asked the Wampanoag Indians to select a speaker to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims' arrival, and the first Thanksgiving.



The True Story of Thanksgiving


This week, back in elementary school, we used make “Indian” headdresses and "pilgrim" hats from construction paper, sit around a table together, and the teachers would pass down the myth of Thanksgiving...


You know the one I mean. The friendly but savage “Indians” welcomed the civilized but persecuted pilgrims arriving from Europe in 1620 with open arms, handing over their land in a bloodless and amiable deal so these hero white folks could build a great nation, a nation of freedom and opportunity. To celebrate this deal, the “Indians” and the pilgrims shared a great feast, and each year, we celebrate this national holiday to mark this coming together.


This is colonialism’s revisionist history - a story created by the oppressors to erase the oppressed and cast themselves as heroes. It is a more palatable tale, meant to keep white folks comfortable and reinforce the so-called American ideology of Manifest Destiny.


The “Indians” were actually the Wampanoag people. When the colonists invaded, the Wampanoag had been engaged with Europeans for at least a century, years of bloodshed, disease, and violent slave raiding already informing their understanding of the colonists. The Wampanoag leader, Ousamequin, sought an alliance with the English colonizers against the rival people, the Narragansetts, at first, but this alliance quickly dissolved into one of the most horrific colonial / Native wars recorded (known as the Great Narragansett War or King Philip’s War). This war devastated the Wampanoag people, and today, the Wampanoag consider Thanksgiving a day of mourning, grieving the decimation caused by the colonizer’s entry into their homeland.


According to the Potawatomi:


The formation of Thanksgiving as an official, United States’ holiday, did not begin until November 1863 during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln officially established the holiday as a way to improve relations between northern and southern states as well as the U.S. and tribal nations. Just a year prior, a mass execution took place of Dakota tribal members. Corrupt federal agents kept the Dakota-Sioux from receiving food and provisions. Finally at the brink of death from starvation, members of the tribe fought back, resulting in the Dakota War of 1862. In the end, President Lincoln ordered 38 Dakota men to die from hanging, and he felt that Thanksgiving offered an opportunity to bridge the hard feelings amongst Natives and the federal government.



How did history become myth?


According to an interview with David Silverman, author of This Land is Their Land, the myth-making began in 1769 and continued on after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863:


"For quite a long time, English people had been celebrating Thanksgivings that didn’t involve feasting—they involved fasting and prayer and supplication to God. In 1769, a group of pilgrim descendants who lived in Plymouth felt like their cultural authority was slipping away as New England became less relevant within the colonies and the early republic, and wanted to boost tourism. So, they started to plant the seeds of this idea that the pilgrims were the fathers of America. What really made it the story is that a publication mentioning that dinner published by the Rev. Alexander Young included a footnote that said, “This was the first Thanksgiving, the great festival of New England.” People picked up on this footnote. The idea became pretty widely accepted, and Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday during the Civil War to foster unity.


It gained purchase in the late 19th century, when there was an enormous amount of anxiety and agitation over immigration. The white Protestant stock of the United States was widely unhappy about the influx of European Catholics and Jews, and wanted to assert its cultural authority over these newcomers. How better to do that than to create this national founding myth around the Pilgrims and the Indians inviting them to take over the land? This myth-making was also impacted by the racial politics of the late 19th century. The Indian Wars were coming to a close and that was an opportune time to have Indians included in a national founding myth. You couldn’t have done that when people were reading newspaper accounts on a regular basis of atrocious violence between white Americans and Native people in the West. What’s more, during Reconstruction, that Thanksgiving myth allowed New Englanders to create this idea that bloodless colonialism in their region was the origin of the country, having nothing to do with the Indian Wars and slavery. Americans could feel good about their colonial past without having to confront the really dark characteristics of it.”


It’s time we own the truth of our history and stop handing down a colonial myth through the generations. Thanksgiving has nothing to do with Native Americans or unity, and instead, serves to reinforce colonial white supremacy.


I challenge you to tell the real story around the table this year.



Practices to Re-imagine and Unsettle Thanksgiving


The purpose of these practices are to actively disrupt and dismantle the ongoing violence of colonization and to understand how colonial mythology is perpetuated through the enactment of cultural traditions steeped in the white-washing of history. It's critical that white settlers do the work of understanding how we are complicit within these sy