On a national scale, Thanksgiving contains the legacy of Europeans pushing Native peoples off their lands, killing them, taking their lands. It contains the legacy of the collapse of Indigenous populations. It contains the legacy of how white people have used that land — for slavery, for settler colonial capitalism. It contains the exploitation of the earth, waters, and air, and the ongoing climate and ecological emergency that is the result of that exploitation.
On a personal scale, Thanksgiving contains memories of gathering at my grandparents’ farm. It contains memories of dozens of people seated around multiple tables piled high with food. It contains memories of my grandfather leading us in prayer: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest…” It contains memories of my older cousins including me in their games after the holiday meal, which they may not have wanted to do.
How do we reconcile these divergent legacies and memories? Is it enough to say that I condemn the former and celebrate the latter? I don’t think it is enough…and yet, today I am still celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe it does. I know that some Indigenous people and their allies would condemn me for my choice.
I will continue to reflect, to feel, to move through this disconnection, without dismissing those who might criticize me. I will gather with my family. I will play with the children. I will relish the fellowship of the adults. I will enjoy the food. I will focus on gratitude for what I have, without forgetting what I have lost. I will be a human being in community — fallible, truthful, sometimes difficult, full of joy, centered in love. This doesn’t change the legacies and memories of the past. But maybe it can exist alongside them.
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