Food Revolution

What Thanksgiving Means to Me: Reflections from our Native Community

Food Revolution
What Thanksgiving Means to Me: Reflections from our Native Community

Welcome to the Thanksgiving edition of Food Revolution! In this episode, we asked our Native community members to reflect on the question "What does Thanksgiving mean to you?" In response, we received reflections on the sacrifices Native ancestors made so that they and their descendants could survive, calls for the true history of Thanksgiving to be taught, reminders on the importance of families coming together to share a meal, and more. 

Thank you all for listening & supporting Food Revolution during season one! We'll be taking a break for a bit before the launch of season two, but want to send a special thank you to all of our guests who have so generously shared their stories with us over the course of this season. 

Full episode transcription available here

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Matte (00:00:00) So this day is a day of remembrance. We remember our relatives and our ancestors, and all the hardships that they endured. We remember that even today, we are still going through challenges and struggles  

Intro (00:00:12) Han Mitakuyapi, and welcome to Food Revolution, brought to you by the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative. Every other week, we'll be bringing you stories of food sovereignty from community members and tribal food producers working to build a more just, equitable, and regenerative food system for the Sicangu Lakota Oyate - the Burnt Thigh Nation. Together, we're building tribal sovereignty through food, and we've set a place at the table just for you. Join us and be part of the food revolution.  

Mairi (00:00:41) Hey everyone. This is Mairi with the Food Sovereignty Initiative. You're listening to the Thanksgiving edition of Food Revolution, which will be our final episode of season one. Thank you all for supporting us this season, and a special thank you to our guests on the show for sharing your stories with us. 

If you're listening to this, you probably know that the Thanksgiving story has been falsified and whitewashed throughout the history of the United States. (And for more on that, you can check out our blog post titled “Thanksgiving and Native Foodways: From 1621 to 2020” on our website, But giving thanks was, and continues to be, a pillar of many Native cultures both before and after colonization. 

For today's episode, we asked our Native community members to reflect on the question “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” In response, we received reflections on the sacrifices that Native ancestors made so that they and their descendants could survive, calls for the true history of Thanksgiving to be taught, and reminders on the importance of families coming together to share a meal. Without further ado, I'll let Matte Wilson, the Food Sovereignty Initiative Director, kick us off.  

Matte (00:01:47) Hau Mitakuyapi. Matthew Wilson emaciyapelo. Cante waste nape ciyuzapelo (Hello my relatives, my name is Matthew Wilson. I greet you with a warm heart and handshake). Hi everybody. My name is Matte Wilson. And today I will be talking about what Thanksgiving means to me. So to start off, I have a large family and we don't necessarily celebrate Thanksgiving, but we do take this time and opportunity to all come together and eat. And that's the beauty of food. It brings people together. I also want to shamelessly plug that my family are amazing cooks. Going back to this day, we don't always get an opportunity to be together all at once. We actually have to rent a building in order to be able to come together. My family also has their own master dishes that they prepare. My late grandma Kathy would always make strawberry pretzel salad, and it was always one of the first things to go. She also made, used to make, one of my favorites, which was a sweet potato casserole. This year is going to be different without her not being here with us. And also with the pandemic, we aren't going to be able to all come together again. So this day is a day of remembrance. We remember our relatives and our ancestors and all the hardships that they endured. We remember that even today, we are still going through challenges and struggles.  

Keenan (00:03:09) Hello. My name is Keenan Weddell.  And what Thanksgiving means to me is, a time and place that, nowadays in this contemporary time, you know, we come together and you guys have a meal together and say what you're thankful for. But, as I grew up what I realized, you know, Thanksgiving is just basically a time where when the colonizers came over, my people, the indigenous that were here on Turtle Island were already doing the things that we taught these colonizers, and they took advantage of it. They massacred and slaughtered many, many of my people. It was about fifty to sixty million within a fifty-year period when the colonizers first came over, the Pilgrims.  

(00:04:07) So to me, what Thanksgiving means is a cover-up. It's just a thing to say, hey, you know, we give thanks for what we took from your people, and we'll use it as a holiday with the turkey and stuffing and some salads. But in reality, it's just a really dark history that people should all really understand before they start cutting up a turkey or before they start making turkeys with construction paper, or they start putting feathers on their own heads and stuff, because they want to play Indian or they want to play Pilgrim. You know, you have to know the history between both sides of the story. And if you think Thanksgiving is a social gathering, like I do, yeah, that's, that's fine, you know, but you need to know the history about it. And that's what Thanksgiving is to me. 

Kathaleen (00:05:11) My name is Kathleen Lopez Smith, I am Chiricahua Apache, and Mexicano, and Irish. What Thanksgiving means to me, is a realization and reflecting on how my ancestors brought me to this path. As an indigenous cook, grower of our traditional foods, and an educator, so that our traditions are not lost. How much my ancestors had to sacrifice to bring me here to this point in my path, how they had to hide their identity so their children, grandchildren, and generations in the future would not be killed by the hands of the white man. It is also about our indigenous food sovereignty. It is a time for me to cook and share with family and friends what I have worked so hard to grow and preserve during the spring and summer and fall seasons. It is time to celebrate the harvest ceremony and another year of resilience.  

Bessie (00:06:22) I’m Bessie Boyd. 

(Question) What does Thanksgiving mean for your family? 

It means that all of my children will be together, and we can catch up and just eat, and hang out.   

Krista (00:06:50) Krista emaciyapi… Thanksgiving. That is definitely an interesting question to ask (laughter). I don't really know. Yeah. I really don't know. Um, growing up with my family, we always had a dinner. We always, you know, came together and shared in time with each other. And then, Sage’s family, same thing. We would come together and have a dinner and stuff, but after having children and, you know, learning about Thanksgiving and the history and things that I was taught going to school, versus the society and the world that we live in today. It's definitely a shift in history with Thanksgiving in general. And for my own personal opinion, I’m definitely in a place to where Thanksgiving is definitely, uh, a very sensitive subject to talk about. But I definitely am not holding back when it comes to teaching my family or my kids, you know, the history with it, but also the importance of coming together as a family and just sharing in a meal, you know? So my own personal opinion, you know, those are my thoughts on Thanksgiving.  

Jody (00:08:36) Alright I'm Jody, baby Ken, my son is Ken junior. Ken asked me not to go off about Thanksgiving. So I'll tame it down a little bit (laughter). When I grew up, we grew up with a traditional Thanksgiving and what are you thankful for? And the whole, all of that. As we got older and we had our own kids and they started asking questions, we kind of, um, we didn't hold back. We didn't really necessarily go off about it either, but they got this understanding. So now we don't necessarily celebrate any actual holiday. I mean, we eat, we get together because that's what it's about, is getting together and having that family time, sharing a meal, and it doesn't have to be turkey and, you know, whatever we feel like, hey, let's have ribs for Thanksgiving. Okay. You know, so we do things like that. It's a typical family dinner. We just get together. We eat, if it's election time, like it is now, we'll discuss things like that or, you know, different things. But same thing with Christmas, we get together, we enjoy the holidays. It's more about gifts now than anything. Easter, you know, the same things there. We celebrate them because it's a time to celebrate family, but we don't celebrate the actual holiday itself. If that makes sense. I'll pick Madonna! 

Madonna Sitting Bear (00:10:10) I think, just to reiterate everyone else's words, and what Jody just said too, is like, I'm always teaching our children about the true meaning of Thanksgiving, meaning the, what happened during that time and the true process of things. And so I guess I just agree with Jody and Krista, as far as that goes, but always teaching them the history behind it. And I say that because I lived out in eastern North Carolina for quite a while, so I was with the people in the tribes that first encountered the colonization and, you know, all the people that came in, and the whole Pocahontas thing and things like that. So it's always in the back of my mind, knowing that and knowing the personal points of views from personal tribal members out there. So just trying to keep our kids open-minded from all different perspectives too, is important to us. So yeah, that's how I feel about things. 

Jenny Hi everyone. My name is Jenny. Yeah. Well in our household, it's a, it's a big deal. We all love Thanksgiving food, but, we just use it more as a day of, to gather family and to share a meal together. Not really what the holiday is supposed to be about. That's how we have it. We're more focused on the turkey and pumpkin pie and things like that other than, rather than, you know, the history behind it. I think that's pretty much all I have to say. 

Carlos  (00:11:55) Hey everybody, I'm Carlos, as far as my thoughts on Thanksgiving, for me, it's just all about grubbing down. And our kids are still kind of young so we don’t really get into the whole history thing with them. But as they get older, you know, we'll talk about it from both perspectives cause me and my kids, we’re mixed. So we got a little bit of both history for, for us. So I'll pass it over to my wife now. 

Deanna (00:12:27) Deanna emaciyapi ksto. My thoughts on Thanksgiving are about the same with Carlos. Mainly because I don't feel my children are mature yet enough to like fully understand, like the full context of the history and everything. And then partially because they are mixed, I don't want them feeling down on themselves or like harsh emotions about it yet because they're still kids. But, for us too, it was always, you know, it was just a day off from work that Carlos could be home with us all day and, uh, to just be able to eat, you know, from sun up to sundown. So it was a good day, have all of us together and to really be thankful for having each other.  

Sage (00:13:28) Sage emaciyapi. Thanksgiving. I think of it just as a gathering. I don't really, you know, I  did a lot of, thought of educating with, with my, in growing up in thinking about what that purpose was, what that was. And a lot of it is with what we're doing right now and starting the school and actually going back to like, well, what, what did we do in this time? What are some things that we can do at this time as indigenous people of this land area? And a lot of time, you know I come from the … tiospaye, which means we’re a mixed people. So I got … and  Osage and then, um, and actually we're not really truly Sicangu either. We just, we mixed in at that time with it at that, when the reservation started.  

(00:14:24) So we, so we come from a mixed people. So there's a lot of just wondering like, well, what did we do at this time? What were some of the things we're doing? And so just learning about that was, uh, well, what we do. And then just of course, we love eating, just like going in. And everybody's, like all the families, you guys know that a lot of the, a lot of the families, you know, they, they picked up this, that culture and then beginning to celebrate it too and use it as a time to gather and not, I don't see a lot, a lot of families' homes about going over, what you know, what was taught to us in school, when we did go to school, so, and people like to eat pumpkin pie, or I do anyway.  

Shanice (00:15:24) Shanice emaciyapi... I think it's kind of like everyone else is saying, it's just like, on the fence about things. And I think as a people, we like to gather, we like to eat, we like to celebrate. And so I think taking the opportunity to do that is really great. And now that Matte's become like a really good chef, I get to enjoy and not help out as much (laughter). And so that's always really great just to enjoy the food. Um, but Ithink like everyone else, I don't like follow the traditions, like we don't want, like, my family has never gone around the table and said, like, I'm thankful for this and this and this because, I don't know. That's just, you know, like we should be thankful for things throughout the year, not just like on one day. And I don't know, there's just like so much history, but like I, like everybody else said, I, I think it's just a great time to be with family and to just appreciate all the people that are around you. So that's a little bit of my thoughts. 

Outro (00:16:51) You’ve been listening to Food Revolution with the Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook at Sicangu Community Development Corporation, Instagram @sicangucdc, and check out our website,, where we post weekly blog posts. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll catch you next time. 


Many thanks to our community members & guests for sharing their thoughts on Thanksgiving with us: Matte Wilson, Keenan Weddell, Kathaleen Lopez Smith, Bessie Boyd, Krista White, Jody Wycke, Madonna Sitting Bear, Carlos Jarret, Deanna Eagle Feather, Sage Fast Dog, and Shanice Nez.

Special thanks to Shanice Nez for collecting audio responses from parents of students at Wakanyeja Tokeyahci Wounspe Tipi (Children First Learning Center), the SCDC's Lakota language immersion school. 

Produced & edited by: Mairi Creedon


Brought to you by Sicangu Food Sovereignty Initiative of Food Revolution