Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Is it possible to introduce controversial, but worthwhile discussion at Thanksgiving without violating family norms? Can a delicate balance be found between tossing out fire bombs that educate no one, but ruin the turkey, introducing a thoughtful, non-judgmental conversation or being silent? If we are to achieve a true democracy it will require civil exchange of ideas among friends. Could this happen as an appetizer before Thanksgiving dinner?

Before launching into a discussion of the myths and realities of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you two critical actions needed right now.  Click here for information on Ranked Choice Voting and contact info for Council and Mayor. Rumor has it that the Council is hearing our voices and may take action. Keep pushing.  

Unlimited Fracking In Sandoval County. Critical Vote Today.  The Sandoval County Commission is voting this Thursday eve on an oil & gas ordinance that is set to open the floodgates for fracking in the county by making fossil fuel extraction a “permissive use” in areas zoned RRA (rural residential agricultural). This means there will be no public notice for drilling activities & no chance to raise concerns before the drilling starts. These areas are “split estate” lands, where citizens only own the surface rights. Thrust energy, a fracking company, already holds the mineral rights for over 80,000 acres in Rio Rancho clear out to Zia Pueblo. The areas being opened to fracking lie over fault zones & our drinking water aquifers. The Commission has ignored both citizen & tribal concerns. There are two votes for and two votes against. One Commissioner, Jay Block, may be open to influence. He seems to want to please people but does not respond well to anger or judgement. I tried to call, but his voice mailbox is full, so I am asking that you email Commissioner Block at and ask him to join Commissioners Eichwald & Holden and vote “NO” on the oil & gas ordinance. Ask him to do it for his children. Keep it respectful. Let’s flood his in-box all day today & tomorrow! Send the email but then reach out to others to ask them to do the same.   If you know anyone in Sandoval County, please share this blog with them and encourage them to take action. I don’t usually suggest supporters to email about issues outside their personal districts, but this isn’t just about Sandoval County, this is about our planet. So in addition to reaching out to friends in Sandoval, send an email yourself.

Probably not how to introduce the topic, but couldn’t the topic be introduced?

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, essentially because until the invention of Black Friday, Thanksgiving had been one holiday resistant to commercialization and the Hallmarking of a holiday. Perhaps because Thanksgiving often brings together friends and family who only see each other on special occasions, the idea of introducing political, social or environmental messages can be viewed as a way to ruin an otherwise festive gathering. However, Retake has always felt it important to provoke discussion and thought among family and friends and so Thanksgiving represents an opportunity to respectfully and sensitively integrate some element of introspection as part of the ritual. But how?

Last year, it was relatively easy. The US was in shock and the natural conversation starter was:  “Ok, in two months Trump will be President, now what?” It is a year later and now there are many possible topics that could be introduced from #metoo, the Trump budget and tax plan, or the daily revelations of another politician, entertainer or celebrity being accused and what does this say about our historic and now hopefully changing attitudes and behaviors toward women. Each of these could be engaging conversations, but depending upon who was at the table, they could be incendiary. Thankfully our allies, Earth Care, sent out a blog earlier this week about re-inventing how we talk about Thanksgiving itself. After looking over the links in their blog I thought it a very good topic that may push people to think critically about our history and this cultural celebration without people choosing sides and digging in defensively. It seemed to me to be largely uncontroversial that our treatment of Native Americans has been deplorable since 1492 and so a thoughtful discussion about how we deal with that and how we talk to our kids about it, might be both topically appropriate and possible to navigate without a food fight.

it is impossible to ignore that the source of the Thanksgiving feast is rooted in colonization and genocide of our Indigenous neighbors. So the question becomes, how could the Thanksgiving gathering become an opportunity for education and discussion about these issues. But introducing genocide into a family gathering, may not be the right way to generate conversation and thought.  Perhaps a better way to initiate the conversation is something like:  “Most of us grew up celebrating Thanksgiving with the focus on food, football and family, while as we grew up and went to school we were taught some very sanitized versions of Thanksgiving. But before we sit down to dinner, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking honestly about our history and our past and current relationship with Native Americans.” This could lead to questions like:

  • Do you recall what you learned about Thanksgiving when you were in school?
  • Certainly aside from returning the entire continent to the Native population, it is impossible to ever make anything like amends with Native Americans, but are there things we could do that might restore some honesty to our understanding of our history and our relationship with Native people?
  • Is there something we could do as individuals or as a group between now and the end of the year to better understand how our privilege has come at the expense not just of Native Americans, but of blacks, farm workers, and millions of under-paid workers who produce our watches, TVs and cars?

I remember participating in dances like this in elementary school. Kind overlooks a good deal, no?

These are but three possible entry points into asking our family and friends to spend at least a few minutes genuinely reflecting on our privilege and the peoples who have paid for that privilege.  Roxanne and I don’t entirely agree that Thanksgiving is the time for this kind of conversation but my inclination is to fully review the links below and introduce one or two of the bulleted questions above and see how it goes.  We are interested in your views as to how others plan to navigate the Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family. Do you think this kind of conversation might work to deepen thinking about our history and culture?  Comments?

And throughout the holidays, Retake is asking its supporters to consider making contributions to a handful of agencies with whom we partner. We introduced the first of those partners, Earth Care, earlier this week, click here to read the blog on this. It includes a link to donate. Since one of the reasons we respect Earth Care so much is that they ask their supporters to ponder deep questions and then provide information like the articles below to help supporters reflect and learn. If you’ve already read the Earth Care blog linked above and want to donate, just click here and give generously. They are over halfway to their holiday goal….help them get there.  We’ll introduce other partner agencies over the next few weeks.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Links from Earth Care on a Socially Responsible Thanksgiving.

  • Thanksgiving Myth Creates Fairytale of Land Theft, Betrayal, Genocide READ HERE
    “While glossing over the very real consequences of colonialism, the mythical version of Thanksgiving creates a fairytale of land theft, betrayal, brutality, and genocide, virtually functioning to erase the very real and traumatic experiences of entire indigenous nations. This phenomena of whitewashing and outright erasure of indigenous history, in many instances, is not only inhumane and oppressive to the indigenous people, but it is also unfair to all Americans who stand to learn from rich and equally tragic history.”
  • The Zinn Project:  The Politics of Thanksgiving READ HERE
    “With family excitement building with the approach of Thanksgiving, you would never know November was Native American History Month. We would do well to recognize Native American resistance to colonialism on Thanksgiving instead of the myths about Native American dinner with Pilgrims.”
  • Why do Schools Still Teach an Oversimplified Thanksgiving Story? READ HERE

Categories: Social & Racial Justice & Immigration Reform

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4 replies

  1. Thank you!
    Let’s add the observation of many Native Americans, then and now, that the European white man and later the Euro-American white man, showed a total lack of connection with the Life of the Land here, as they developed their disdain for Life in Europe for millennia. And we still do!

  2. That’s an excellent question to include in the conversation. What I like about this kind of discussion is that while almost no one would dispute that the Native population has been nearly destroyed by US policy, so you are not stuck in a conservative-progressive tug and pull, the topic can lead to conversation that goes pretty deeply into capitalism and colonialism, especially if the person presenting the info is prepared with some specifics.

  3. Perhaps one could quote the Secretary of State’s speech in Myanmar: “The key test of any democracy is how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized populations . . . It is the responsibility of the government and the security forces to protect and respect the human rights of all persons within its borders and to hold accountable those who fail to do so.” (from former head of thug corporation that assaulted DAPLA demonstrators.)

  4. Our family has started to celebrate Harvest Day instead. We enjoy food, fatten up for winter and appreciate the earth for it’s bounty. We decided to do some of the preparation cooking on Thursday and have Harvest Day on Friday, which enables us to also ignore Black Friday. Peace-

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