Native American Shares the Things She Wants Her Fellow Americans To Know About Thanksgiving

Share on Facebook

A Native American woman has shared the things that she wants fellow Americans to know about Thanksgiving and it’s eye-opening.

For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time spent with family and friends.

It’s a time to enjoy good food and think about what you’re thankful for, but, for many, it’s about a whole lot more…

Native American, Corinne Oestreich, says Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate “the survival of our culture, our language, our foods.”

And after sharing what Thanksgiving means to her and what she would like fellow Americans to know about it, a lot of opinions have been sparked…

Writing for the Huffington Post Personal, Oestreich began by explaining that “Native Americans don’t just live on reservations, we live in cities, and we live internationally.”

Oestreich “grew up in the Silicon Valley of California,” having been “born in the city and have lived here my whole life” she grew up as “an ‘Urban Native.'”

“My grandfather moved to California from Mohawk territory in the 1950s after he served in Korea, and we have all lived in Sunnyvale ever since,” she wrote.

Growing up, she faced different challenges to her “Oyaté (family) out on the reservations.”

For Oestreich, it was “easier to lose our sense of culture living among so many established settler communities.”

“If I didn’t find my community, my Native family, or my traditional support, I’d get swallowed up by colonialism.”

“As a child, Thanksgiving was for me what it is for most children ― a day when you spend time with family, talking or thinking about what you’re thankful for,” she wrote. “You color some turkey pages and then you eat a lot of food.”

Oestreich explained that her family “worked really hard to keep the narrative of the dinner between Indians and Pilgrims out of it,” thus meaning the only time she was exposed to the story “of a dinner between Pilgrims and Indians was when I was in elementary school.”

“Growing up in an established settler community like the Bay Area, I was not given much perspective on the holiday. I was told: ‘This dinner happened. Here, wear this paper feather headdress, and let’s eat some cookies bought at Safeway.'”

But as Oestreich and her brother grew up, they “dove headfirst into learning as much as we could from our elders about our cultures.”

And that need and want to learn more about her culture only grew when Oestreich gave birth to her first child.

“The need to pass down traditional knowledge grew from that awakening into motherly responsibility. We wanted to honor our ancestors with respectful knowledge and practice. I am Lakota and Mohawk, two very different cultures, so there was much to learn and many opinions that came with it.”

As her knowledge began to grow, Oestreich “became heavily involved with the Bay Area Native community and attended powwows and ceremonies in San Francisco and San Jose.”

But, after talking with “as many elders as I could find” and doing her own research, Oestreich found that a “side effect to gaining more of that traditional knowledge was fighting the anger that came creeping in along with it.”

She found herself “dwelling on the pain” of her learning which in turn made her “angry and bitter during the holiday and ashamed to celebrate with my family when Thanksgiving rolled around.”

Remembering the first time she saw a kindergarten boy walk out of his classroom “wearing a feather headdress made from construction paper,” Oestreich said she froze and felt sick.

“I distinctly remember looking at the faces of the parents around me thinking, ‘Is no one else upset by this?'” she explained.

This happened around the “same time as the protests at Standing Rock, and all of the violence my friends went through was a stark contrast to this skipping boy.”

As Oestreich was watching her friends at Standing Rock getting “sprayed by ice cold water, beaten by police officers, thrown in dog kennels and bitten by security dogs,” children in schools were being taught “that dressing up as an ‘Indian’ was fine on Thanksgiving.”

It was that moment that Oestreich “realized the holiday was lifted on some imaginary pedestal as a joyous day of peace between two worlds, when historians know the truth to be much more violent.”

After coming to a realization, Oestreich spoke with an elder at the Veterans Powwow where she expressed her anger and pain.

The veteran took her “hand while I waited with them for the ceremony and offered an opinion to me that challenged the anger I had developed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“The elder said, ‘You can choose how you feel about this day, but it is a choice. Either let the day claim you, or choose to reclaim it.'”

The statement took her back but also made her question what she could do “that would reclaim the day in a way that was both healing and power-giving.”

It was from there that Oestreich and her family “decided that we would spend the day celebrating the survival of our culture, our language, our foods.”

When later attending the Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony in San Francisco, Oestreich spoke with former NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, who asked her opinion on Thanksgiving.

“The only answer I could give him on that walk echoed the words of the elder that challenged my own feelings the year before: ‘I can choose how I feel about this day, but it is a choice. I can either let the holiday claim me, or choose to reclaim it.'”

Finishing her writing, Oestreich asked one thing “from my non-indigenous fellow Americans when it comes to Thanksgiving.”

That was that they refrain “from teaching the romanticized version of the holiday.”

She encouraged people to read “to your children about what it means to be thankful” and to “learn as a family about the tribal nation that is local to where you live.”

She also asked people that to “take time during dinner to recognize whose traditional lands you give thanks on.”

“Take this holiday into your own hands and understand that not every Native will have good feelings about this day, and be accepting of that. We can all choose how we feel about this holiday, but it is always our own choice.”