As the name implies, Thanksgiving is traditionally a holiday about gratitude. While acknowledging the things we are grateful for is important, the gathering of friends and family also provides an opportunity for critical conversations on accountability.
From as early as elementary school, many Americans are taught an oversimplified, inaccurate account of white settlers’ interactions with Indigenous peoples. In these white-centric narratives, Native Americans are often portrayed as either subservient allies to settlers or dangerous enemies. While the falsification of this history is becoming more widely understood, tribal communities across the country are still grappling with negative perceptions of their identities and cultural norms, loss of land, broken treaties and promises, and persecution.
Those of us who who are non-native or Indigenous must hold ourselves accountable for the roles we’ve played in perpetuating narratives that center white colonizers. To build a foundation of understanding for these conversations, consider the following activity from Jonah Canner, originally included in the Avodah Institute for Social Change’s High Holiday resource, “Transformative Teshuvah.” Begin by thoughtfully considering:
- What do you know about the place you live?
- What do you know about the people who lived there before European Colonization?
- Research the Indigenous history of the place that you live and find a story that has been erased from the settler narrative that you were taught.
At Avodah, our programs span six cities across the country, land that belongs to the Munsee Lenape, Lekawe, Canarsie, Merrick, Nissequogue, Secatogue, Shinnecock, Corchaug, Mannansett, Montaukett, Nacotchtank, Piscataway, Choctaw, Houma, Kickapoo, Kaw, Ho-Chunk, Myaamia, Potawatomi, Kaskaskia, Peoria, Kickapoo, Kumeyaay, and Cocopah peoples.
Discussions of accountability are the first step toward actionable change. One way you can take action to support tribal communities is by joining them in their community-led efforts to combat climate change and push for environmental justice. In addition to the long history of injustice and mistreatment of Indigenous peoples at the hands of colonizers and governmental systems, they are suffering greatly from the increasingly rapid effects of climate change. In one of Avodah’s sites, New Orleans, tribal communities along the coast are watching their ancestral land disappear beneath their feet.
As a report from the Native-led First Nations Development Institute states, “In an irony lost to no one, the first peoples on the North American continent are generally the first to need to move as a result of climate change. Climate change inevitably threatens ancestral Native cultural practices and resources as well as tribal sovereignty. Environmental shifts resulting from climate change link to cultural self-determination, and tribal identity. For these reasons, tribes have a vested interest, above and beyond that of other communities, in addressing climate change and in investigating and conducting mitigation strategies.”
After Hurricane Ida devastated much of the Gulf region, Avodah’s New Orleans cohort volunteered with elders from the Grand Bayou tribal community to help restore the local church grounds and community center. Little media attention was given to the devastation in the area, as the community is one of few still only accessible by boat. The Grand Bayou tribal community has been leading restoration efforts of the land, water, and air, even as their lands have washed away into the Gulf of Mexico. In spite of this, they continue to be a mostly self-sustaining community and are fighting to establish new ways to be subsistent and sustainable. You can support their efforts here.
Interested in an ongoing effort to uplift the voices of Jews of Color? Follow along as we highlight JOCs, including Native voices, on the Avodah JOC Bayit Instagram.