Each month we are dedicating one session to a different aspect of decentering whiteness work, with our theme guiding us toward which aspect to focus on. When it comes to healing, so many brave and wise voices have lifted up the importance of telling the true history of Thanksgiving. This search for the true history is reflected in our Fourth Principle: “A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning” and our Eighth Principle: “journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse
multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” Our faith has taken up this work and called on white UU’s to be especially vigilant about the work of correcting stories that have caused harm. So what’s one of the ways our faith guides us into becoming a people of healing? It says, “Learn and tell our true history!”
Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation
Reflection Object: A craft store feather
Here’s a feather from a craft store. They are fun to play with. Children used to be encouraged to choose “Indian” names and stick feathers in their hair to “play Indian.” For a while, feather headdresses were a fashion item. Now, more people know that it is racist to denigrate, make fun of, or use a tradition to sell stuff. “Playing Indian” simplifies and often ends up making fun of Indigenous people. This is called “cultural appropriation.”
Imagine if people took something your family feels important and made it into a game or used it to sell clothing.
Indigenous peoples have been part of marginalized peoples subjected to the pain of racism. They are subjected to a variety of myths, including being extinct and not living in modern times. Feather headdresses are another part of the stereotype of all Indigenous Peoples, when the headdresses really belong only to honored warriors who are part of the Plains Indigenous culture.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t admire the beauty of a feather headdress or learn more about the Indigenous peoples. That is called “Cultural Appreciation.” One way to learn more is to know our collective history, especially at this time of year.
The traditional story of Thanksgiving is one of the myths about Indigenous Peoples. November is a good time to seek out the true story of Thanksgiving. Storytelling has the power to heal, according to leaders and science, and is a good way to help heal the trauma experienced when a people are subjected to racism.
So, find out the true story of Thanksgiving, and leave the “Pilgrims and Indians” of the traditional version behind. All cultures celebrate a time of giving thanks, of gratitude expressed. Thanksgiving can also be a time of healing through the true story.
“A good rule of thumb for this is when referring to Natives, call us Native American, Indigenous, First Nations, or by our specific band or tribe if you want some extra Ally Points, and just let Natives call each other Indian.”