How to Be an Indigenous Ally for Thanksgiving (And Beyond)

From acknowledging the tribal land you're on to stopping big banks from financing oil pipelines, there's plenty we can do.

Despite the school system’s darndest attempts to cleanse the history of America’s treatment of Indigenous people, Americans are increasingly questioning the most obvious example: Thanksgiving.

That day almost 400 years ago is not when the Pilgrims and who they dubbed “Indians” broke bread and lived happily ever after, but a painful marker for the suffering of Native Americans at the hands of colonizers. For people who recognize this gap in history lessons, the next question that may arise is, “But what do I do about it?”

“I see people want to become more educated about indigenous versions of history and people want to support,” says Jackie Fielder, a local organizer and lecturer at San Francisco State University. “They just don’t know where to find us.”

Before you shrug off the guilt and go back to the regularly scheduled programming of gorging on mashed potatoes and circularly explaining #BlackLivesMatter to your relatives, here are some suggestions for Thanksgiving day and every day.


Recognize the people whose land you’re on

For the San Francisco Peninsula, that’s the Ohlone Ramaytush. Interactive maps like Native Land paint a bigger picture are a good introduction to finding what tribes were Indigenous to the areas we call home. Now do your research, acknowledge them among family, help change the narrative using this guide, and get to know the contemporary struggles of their predecessors.

Such issues include oil pipelines encroaching on Native land, access to food and water, and violence against Indigenous women. Not to mention threats to their tribal sovereignty under the Trump administration, recent voter suppression in North Dakota that disproportionately affects the state’s Native Americans,

“America needs to reconcile with the fact that nothing is ‘the past,'” Lauren Chief Elk tells SF Weekly. “Genocide is not a one-time event, it’s an ongoing process and I think this holiday can be transformed into a recognition and reconciliation of that.”

Tell youth the truth

That transformation can come from the youth if we tell them the honest truth. People who have children in their lives should look into how their school is handling the holiday, such as playing problematic dress up. Kids can handle the facts that will serve as a foundation for understanding the world around them later.

Remember the Wampanoag

The Wampanoag are known as the tribe who greeted the Pilgrims and dined with them in the 17th century. But in the present day, they are fighting the Trump administration’s recent revoking of their federal trust. That means that the Mashpee Wampanoag will lose 321 acres of land, the Boston Globe reported.

Consume and buy Indigenous work

Prison Writings by Leonard Peltier may be an introduction to Indigenous authors for some college students, but there’s a deluge of written work to choose from. Support other artists like fashion designer B.Yellowtail and find more through the Institute of American Indian Arts, a Santa Fe college where many get their start.

Better yet, peruse their goods yourself. Urban Native Era, located in San Francisco, is holding an Indigenous Red Market in Oakland on Dec. 2. If arts store Gathering Tribes in Albany doesn’t quench your thirst, this list identifies Native-owned businesses to patronize.

Support organizations that support them

The Native American Health Center and the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits are some local examples.  National organizations like the American Indian College Fund and National Indian Child Care Association show up on this list of top Native American organizations to get familiar with.

But Chief Elk suggests taking it a step further by joining the #GiveYourMoneyToWoman movement to directly give to Indigenous women who are economically disadvantaged.

Stop big banks

It’s no secret that Wall Street banks financed the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has galvanized Native Americans over the threat to clean water for tribes in North Dakota. They were also heavily involved in the Great Recession, fund private prisons, other oil pipelines, and lock in high-interest rates for student loans.

Fielder, who is focused on divestment, strongly advocates for moving money into a credit union or local bank — and cities nationwide aren’t exempt from this. She’s also behind the push for a public bank in San Francisco that can, instead, fund things like clean energy and affordable housing in and are beholden to voters. She suggests pushing city officials to get behind it, too.

Make Indigenous rights a political priority

Rights for Indigenous people sounds like a slam-dunk to back. Alas, the United States — along with fellow Western colonizers Canada, New Zealand, and Australia — voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Fielder calls for pushing the Democratic National Party into recognizing and upholding these rights, which could have prevented something like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The historic yet belated election of two Indigenous women to Congress just might mean some advocacy could break through. Deb Haaland, an impending representative of New Mexico, immediately called to bring the crisis of missing and Indigenous women to the forefront. Call your representatives to give this probe momentum.

Be happy with them

It’s not strictly seriousness and sorrow for Indigenous people. Chief Elk proposes joining their powwows, stick games, rodeos, art shows, and other events full of song, dance, and laughter.

“There is so much vibrance and joy among Native people that comes through in our creations and events,” Chief Elk says. “There is a plethora of activities to attend and get involved in, and this Thanksgiving I would like to encourage more participation and interest in all of it.”

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