Native Americans will also gather for thanksgiving, but perhaps for a different reason

Nov 23, 2021, 6:49 PM | Updated: 9:47 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – For many Utahns, Thanksgiving reminds us of the scene in 1621 when the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe put aside their differences and gathered peacefully, but the holiday means something else for Native Americans.

“I think for the most part you’re going to find native people celebrating Thanksgiving this week,” said Dustin Jansen, the director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs.

“It may not be in the spirit of colonialism or settler colonialism in that respect, but it will certainly be celebrated as a week of gratitude. Time to be with family and to remember those that have passed on.”

Jansen said it’s important to recognize that there are 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. and eight in Utah. Each may see the Thanksgiving holiday in a different light.

“When we generalize and say the thanksgiving feast was between pilgrims and Indians, we’re actually homogenizing cultures,” said Brenda Beyal. “It’s important to be as specific as you possibly can.”

Beyal is a member of the Navajo Nation and the program coordinator for the Native American Curriculum Initiative at BYU Arts Partnership. She pointed out there was only one tribe—the Wampanoag—who participated in the event in 1621.

“The story needs to be told from different perspectives rather than just one,” she said.

Beyal met with KSL at the Springville Museum of Art, where staff are working to portray the thanksgiving story and the role of Native Americans as accurately as they can through their display and with input from tribal members.

Beyal plans to gather for a feast on Thursday. “Like with any culture we add our own flavor to Thanksgiving,” she said.

Their meal will include indigenous food like lamb stew. She said most tables in Utah and across the country will include food that’s influenced by Native Americans. Things like mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, corn, turkey, and cranberries.

Beyal said their reason for gathering is different.

“We don’t celebrate in a way that we’re celebrating pilgrims and Indians coming together. I would say that we celebrate thanksgiving. We give thanks for all the bounty that we have.”

“You’re going to find a big mix of reasons why people celebrate this week and expressing that gratitude,” Jansen said.

He also plans to gather with his family on the holiday. While the reasons may vary for families across the state, he said he hopes this week everyone will consider and give thanks for Native Americans and their part in caring for the land, wildlife, and resources we enjoy.

“I think that’s something that everyone can express gratitude for,” he said. “And that’s something that could bring people closer together if people acknowledge that stewardship.”

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Native Americans will also gather for thanksgiving, but perhaps for a different reason