New Thanksgiving tradition: acknowledge the land you live on.

September 10, 2021

New Thanksgiving tradition: acknowledge the land you live on.

Remember learning about Thanksgiving in grade school? Christopher Columbus set sail on his three ships -- the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria -- and discovered America. In the process he also proved that the world wasn't actually flat. Thanksgiving was a big party where Christopher Columbus and his fellow pilgrims sat down for a big feast with the Indians who, err, lived on the land before Columbus "discovered" it (awkward), they ate turkey, and the Indians showed the pilgrims how to make popcorn!

And they all lived happily ever after.

Except for the part where Columbus thought he was in India (hence "Indians"), saw the native people who were there before him as savages, and proceeded to enslave, terrorize and massacre them. 

The Thanksgiving story most of us learned in school is really just a fairy tale, and it's time we told our kids the truth. So this year, we are proposing a new family tradition: once you're done saying what you're thankful for, take some time to acknowledge the land you live on. 

This idea is what led to the design of our new land acknowledgment shirt. It's part graphic tee, part positive message, and part lesson plan. It comes with a blank space on it so families can work together to research whose tribal land they live on, then write it onto their shirt to complete their own land acknowledgment statements. Like this:

Drew lives on the land of the Lanapie and Canarsie tribal nations.

Drew lives on the land of the Lenape and Canarsie tribal nations - and now he knows it!

Wait, what is "land acknowledgment"?

The land most of us live on today is only "ours" because our government signed treaties with the tribal nations who lived here before us that guaranteed them certain rights and protections, and in turn gave us the right to live, work and govern on their native lands. Land acknowledgment is a way to bring awareness to that fact in everyday life.

Why is this important for kids to learn about? 

Let's bring in my middle school bestie Se-ah-dom Edmo, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce, and Yakama.

"Every family, across the country and continent, lives on someone's traditional lands," Se-ah-dom explains. "When kids begin to learn real history (not the Thanksgiving myth), they will undo stereotypes that Indians only live in the past, or that we no longer exist. Our kids are our future civic leaders and it's an important skill to know who the tribal nations in their area are."

That goes for us grownups, too. So here's how to do it!

Step one: Research whose tribal land you live on

Luckily for us all, Native Land has overseen some impressive crowd-sourced research on this subject and has an amazing web site where you can find out whose tribal land you live on.

Head to the Native Land web site, and start typing your city name into the search box at the top left. The map will zoom in and show your location along with the name of your local tribal nation(s). There may be more than one.

Step two: Learn more about the tribe(s)

Once you know whose traditional land you live on, do some research on the tribe(s) so you can learn more. Google will yield all kinds of interesting information! Try searching "history of the [tribe name] tribe." You may find that the tribal nation from your area has an information center, ongoing events, and all kinds of awesome opportunities for further learning. 

Step Three: Fill in your shirts!

Now for the fun part -- writing your local tribal nation(s) names on your family's shirts! We have printed a special area white on this shirt that will hold permanent pen, so plan carefully because you won't be able to erase it. We recommend having kids practice on paper first.

Any permanent marker will do - we recommend your basic Sharpie. If your kids can't confidently write on their own yet, we recommend writing the tribe name(s) - in large letters - onto the shirt in pencil first and letting them trace over it. If they're just not ready, that's okay, parents can do the writing. The research and learning is the most important part, and at this stage you've already done that.

Side note: I highly recommend monitoring Sharpie use extremely closely with littler kids! Take it from me, a mom whose basement walls were lovingly and copiously decorated with Sharpie at a heartbreakingly efficient pace.

Step Four: Wear your shirts proudly and educate people

Now you know what land acknowledgement is, why it's important, and whose land you're walking around on. People will ask you and your kids about your shirts, and you can tell share that information. Spread the word!

Umm, are you saying we need to stop celebrating Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful opportunity to teach kids lessons about gratitude and celebrate our good fortune. But please also be aware that for many native families Thanksgiving is a day of mourning, and the story about happy settlers and Indians sitting down and eating popcorn and turkey together is a fairy tale. Out of respect for those whose ancestors were slaughtered and enslaved, please don't sell that myth to your kids.

Take some time on Thanksgiving to acknowledge the land you live on and the indigenous people who lived there before and still live there now. In addition to saying what you're thankful for, have an age-appropriate discussion with your kids about the real history of Christopher Columbus and his crew. For younger kids that may just mean explaining that before European settlers got here, there were already people living on this land -- and some of those people are still here today. With older kids, you can gradually share the truth: that early settlers were violent and brutal to the indigenous people who were here first, and to pretend otherwise does everyone a disservice.

I want to get this right but I don't totally understand how the land is theirs but also ours and I'm kind of confused.

It's not a simple concept, but it's okay - you do not have to be a master of all the nuance or be able to perfectly explain it. Just opening the door to this idea that there were people here before us, and some of those people are still here now, is a really good start. It's awesome to learn with our kids, and remember: when you model working hard to obtain knowledge and understanding, your kids will learn to do the same.

Are you donating some of the money from sales of this design?

Absolutely. We will be donating 25% of the proceeds from this design to the Center for Native American Youth, a national advocacy organization working to improve the health, safety, and overall well-being of Native American youth ages 24 and under.

How come the boy is wearing blue and the girl is wearing pink in the picture at the top of this article? Gender stereotypes suck!

Funny you should mention that - defying gender stereotypes is kind of our jam. You should take a peek around our Kids' Collection. You'll see plenty of pictures on our Facebook and Instagram pages of boys wearing pink and girls wearing blue. These are just the colors these cuties happened to pick out that day. 

Are there any great resources or lesson plans to help me educate my kids (or students) about these topics?

Yes! We recommend the Native Land Teacher's Guide, the IllumiNatives Lesson Plans and Ally Resources, and Washington State's Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State lesson plans.

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