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5 Ways to Decolonize Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Organizations

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This Thanksgiving is an opportunity for various organizations to honor Native American Heritage at work. As awareness of the deeply troubling history of Thanksgiving has grown in the United States, we confront the challenge of celebrating this holiday in an ethical way. In this toolkit, we will share 5 steps that workplaces can take to ethically celebrate this holiday.

1) Educate yourself and your Employees on the History of Thanksgiving

Not everyone grew up learning about Native American history in school. A great place to start is to share resources that can help your employees learn about the history of Thanksgiving and the Native American heritage. For example, rather than share the 8th pumpkin pie recipe in your weekly newsletter, you could include educational resources sourced from Indigenous voices authors or sources that delve into different perspectives about the holiday. Here are 2 resources that helped us learn about the history of Thanksgiving.

a) First thanksgiving – what really happened? – First Thanksgiving history – Youtube video.

b) Everything you learned about Thanksgiving is wrong – NY Times Article on Thanksgiving history.

How does this help?

By providing resources, you avoid burdening Indigenous people on your team to educate you or the organization. Relying on individual team members to share their perspectives on history based on identity alone can be tokenizing. Informing yourself about history and perspectives will help you be sensitive and empathetic in your interactions with indigenous peoples.

2) Move Beyond Land Acknowledgements

Verbal land acknowledgments can turn into displays of optical allyship if they aren’t paired with meaningful discussion and action. Here are a few ways you can make your land acknowledgments meaningful.

a) Pair the land acknowledgment with a discussion on people’s connection with their own land including the land they reside or work in at the start of your meetings.

b) While making verbal land acknowledgments, don’t be afraid to use terms of ‘genocide’ ‘massacre’, and ‘stolen land’. The resources will easily help you identify Native Land by doing a quick location search: Native Land Digital.

c) Follow up the verbal acknowledgment by inviting employees to donate or support a Native American cause.

How does this help?

Meaningful engagement communicates to your employees that the organization is going beyond the surface. That in turn creates a space where people from various cultures and backgrounds can feel a sense of belonging and value for who they are.

3) Decolonize the Thanksgiving Menu

Instead of the turkey and the pie, add Indigenous recipes to your holiday newsletter. If your office has an in-person gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, cater from indigenous chefs or organize an indigenous foods potluck with your team. Here are some great resources we found:

NY Times article on ways to redefine the Native American Culinary movement.

7 Native American Chefs share their recipes.

How does this help?

Food is the perfect icebreaker to learn about people’s traditions, stories, and rituals. As you listen to people share anecdotes and knowledge about their culture can help individuals practice curiosity, appreciation, and connection with diverse cultures. These connections then help build tolerance for differences in values and opinions.

4) Honor Indegiounous Voices within your Field of Work.

Too often, we offer credibility to sources that are associated with power and fame. For example, we subconsciously default to white male authors, disproportionally believe mainstream articles and ignore perspectives presented through oral history. As you initiate new projects or ideas at your workplace, refer to the voices and works of the indigenous community. You could read books by native writers, follow native artists and entrepreneurs, as well as learn from leaders in your field that belong to native communities. Additionally, you could select frameworks and models based on indigenous philosophies of work. Our team of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultants recently learned about the ‘indigenous approach to DEI’ through this course shared by Olohana Foundation.

How does this help?

Subconsciously, many of us adopt colonial mental models of thinking and working. Diversifying sources of knowledge is a great way to decolonize our own minds and add varied perspectives and approaches to our problem-solving skills.

5) Integrating DEI Efforts in your Daily Operations.

All of the above suggestions could fall to the wayside if your efforts are disconnected from your work. Evaluate spaces, meetings, and processes where you can integrate the ideas shared above. Here is a list we created on integrating DEI efforts within your scope of work.

a) Start a group meeting with video snippets/speeches/stories about Native American Heritage and invite comments/thoughts on the same.

b) Including native voices in the research phase of any project

c) Collaborate with native businesses

Here is a short list of resources you could use within your meetings:

Video on Native Americans reacting to Thanksgiving.

Podcast run by Native Americans discussing their life.

Suppressed speech by Wamsutta

Native American music playlist.

How does it help?

Proactively systematizing these celebrations of Native American Heritage Month can allow your colleagues to experience your efforts as cohesive, and predictable then eventually help them contribute to these celebrations.

At Hyphens and Spaces, we create effective DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) programs that maximize impact in organizations. We offer both custom training to generate unique solutions and core courses to address the common pain points teams are faced with. For more on DEI learning or strategy work, contact Hyphens and Spaces today to book an appointment with one of our consultants or send us an email at [email protected].

By: Dr. Ana María López Caldwell and Sahana Sriram

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