The Thanksgiving holiday has morphed with time into a great American legend that purports the coming together of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians after the tribe helped the Pilgrims harvest a bountiful supply of fresh vegetables. The story is really a fabricated history that became more popular through Norman Rockwell’s paintbrush strokes.
Even though the original Thanksgiving is fictional, as a Potawatomi man, I love the idea of having a day set aside to recognize the blessings bestowed on me and my family during the past year—especially in this year of the horrific pandemic.
While I may celebrate Thanksgiving, many of my fellow Native Americans counter the holiday with alternative events. Every year since 1975, American Indians have journeyed from the mainland to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on Thanksgiving Day before dawn to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony. Previously, the day was called “Un-Thanksgiving Day.” At Plymouth, Massachusetts, a group of Native Americans will commemorate the Day of Mourning. These two events are held to remember our ancestors who came before us and endured much suffering at the expense of colonialism.
In recent years, an Indigenous food movement has been emerging that seeks to get back to the traditional eating patterns and habits of our ancestors. This a great news because back then before the introduction of processed foods, our ancestors were free of diabetes and heart problems that afflict many of our tribal citizens today.
To further counter the fictional Thanksgiving, Indigenous chefs have promoted alternative recipes for Native American tables as they sit down to celebrate on the national holiday. Indigenous chef Sean Sherman (Sioux), author of the National Book Award winning book , The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, writes, “most of our Thanksgiving recipes are made with indigenous foods: turkey, corn, beans, pumpkins, maple, wild rice and the like. We should embrace this.”
However, it should be noted there were no potatoes, an indigenous South American food, as they had not been introduced into the global food system, and no pumpkin pies because there was no butter, wheat flour, or sugar.
Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo), an Indigenous chef who operates a San Francisco Bay area catering company, Wahpepah’s Kitchen, dishes up authentic recipes inspired by her Kickapoo heritage and often includes Native foods, such as bison, venison squash and corn.
“Preparing traditional foods is the way to good health and happiness for families to heal from historical trauma. This is one we practice in my household for us to talk about our ancestors and how beautiful and healthy our foods are,” says Wahpepah.
She shared her Thanksgiving Day menu she will prepare for her family this year.
“I will cook a deer roast with dried berry rub along with acorn squash, Kickapoo white beans and dried corn soup with Hubbard squash with corn bread and a squash pudding,” Wahpepah said.
The meal sounds delicious and in this year of the pandemic we can be thankful for the blessings bestowed upon us.
Header Photo Credit: Kirsten Kirby-Shoote