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AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | It’s time to recenter the historical focus on Thanksgiving

As we continue to push for a more honest accounting of the history of the United States, many have found it increasingly difficult to engage in traditions that boil down to a celebration of the colonization that ultimately had such a profound impact on people of color.
Eartha Hopkins Column
Eartha Hopkins

In recent years, African Americans have sought to redefine our relationship with Thanksgiving. 

As we continue to push for a more honest accounting of the history of the United States, many have found it increasingly difficult to engage in traditions that boil down to a celebration of the colonization that ultimately had such a profound impact on people of color.

Granted, there is quite a bit of historical evidence that, in several regions, the initial relationship between European settlers and the native tribes was positive. 

Still, we all know how the story went from there.

In some circles, the push has been to intentionally focus more on gratitude and family during Thanksgiving, ignoring the historical context ingrained in us since kindergarten.

But there may be an even better way to honor the original people of this land: By actually using Thanksgiving to learn about, celebrate and uplift the traditions and continuing legacy of Native Americans. This is particularly true for Ohioans, as we live with this legacy around us daily even at the most basic level: the names of our state and several cities and counties — including Mahoning — come directly from the language of this area’s earliest settlers.

Perhaps it's time for us to reframe Thanksgiving in the same way that the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day has been reclaimed.

Discovering true Native American cultural legacy

It’s quite possible, and highly likely, that the foods and customs that have been passed down as Thanksgiving were sanitized, for lack of better words. But even if cranberry sauce and turkey were included in feasts by Native tribes closer to the Eastern seaboard, the Chippewa, Delaware, Miami and other communities who walked our land in 1621 had much different culinary customs. 

Thanksgiving could become your family’s opportunity to discover these traditions and incorporate them into your own celebrations.

Celebrating rich cultural history

Because of our geographical location, the colonization of the Ohio Valley didn't really start until the 1750s, when the French and Indian Wars brought European settlers to the area en masse. Before the interactions between Natives and settlers turned from one of passive coexistence to one of conquest, the Adena and Hopewell and many others had created thriving communities, remnants of which are immortalized in historical sites just a few hours away from the Mahoning area.

Perhaps it's time to celebrate the history that was instead of admonishing the revisions.

Taking a page from our own needs

For years, and particularly in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, Black people in America have urged would-be allies to do the work. Here we stand with the opportunity to do the same.

While so many Native Americans have been displaced or seen their contributions erased from the greater conversations about American history, there are several resources that will not only teach you about the history of these indigenous groups but allow you to stand in support of their descendants.

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