Thanksgiving Thoughts from the Land of First Contact

Thanksgiving Day in New England: always strange, convoluted, fraught with intersectional complexities.

On one hand, it’s a day my family gathers, cook traditional Black foods, and fellowship. Holiday dinners are some of the few times of the year, in fact, that I feel unequivocally Black in a way that no one can contest or take from me. Surrounded my by relatives, lots of laughter, and stories, I once again understand myself in the context of the Black community of Rhode Island.

But what lingers, too, is the sadness around this holiday for those of us who are also Native in the family. So before we gather, I’m holding space for my Wampanoag relatives, as well as my Pequot relatives and ancestors.

And in light of my own disconnection and reconnection from my Pequot family and lineage, that is very difficult for me to engage with. I resent deeply much of the way people talk about the brutality my ancestors endured: It’s a holiday that celebrates genocide, killing off all the Native Americans and kicking them off their land. Well-meaning folks have said this to my face as if I’m not still here, on my land, fighting to be seen. As if I do not carry a special, pointed sorrow at being 26 and just now becoming conversational in my language. As if I am not acutely ashamed of the ways in which I have been disconnected from community and culture.

These are layers I don’t expect everyone to understand, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing to become maudlin over. Far be it from me to police anyone’s tone. All I can do is endeavor to be as authentic as possible and offer loving suggestions when I think we can do better.

To my Wampanoag and Pequot family, I see you. To my non-Native friends, I see you, too; and I’d invite you to do your own work and not rely on Native people rehashing their trauma for your enlightenment. In telling “real story” of Thanksgiving, I invite you to hold space for the fact that living Native people in New England are still grappling with the effects of this particular act of genocide.

It’s not about policing; it’s about shifting your frame of reference. I say this in love. I say this because I think we can do better.

Happy Thanksgiving. Or not. Here’s to family, to friends, to remembering, to healing, to our futures.

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