6 Ways To Decolonize + Indigenize Thanksgiving -- From Herbalists


“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants 


1.  Learn What the Season is Teaching Us

November, in the depth of autumn, with its shortening of days and coming chill, is a month of transformation, rest and remembrance.   For some of us, it is becoming a month committed to transforming our participation in Thanksgiving.   

The Scorpio season of 2021 is closing with the longest full lunar eclipse the Earth has seen in over 500 years, coming into fullness November 19th.  The full moon will be in the sign of Taurus, the element of earth, a fixed feminine sign sign ruled by Venus. Taurus symbolizes the home, possessions, tenacity, and strength. This full moon will illuminate what has been hidden beneath the surface of our Earth, our minds, and our bodies.

Questions to ask ourselves this time of year 

What are the roots of our belief systems around Thanksgiving and capitalism? What are my patterns of consumption throughout the seasons? And what am I contributing to with my dollar, my perception, and my attention? Scorpio transmutes and transforms and with the full moon in Taurus, we will be able to see what roles we've been programmed to play within our communities.

We can step out of the roles that enable us to be dishonest with ourselves, roles that keep us small and disconnected with our relationship with the Earth. 

What Does the Beaver Moon -- Full Moon in Taurus Teach?

This moon is the Beaver moon, which marks the time when beavers take shelter in their lodges, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. For many animals, like the bear and the beaver, this season marks the time to prepare for hibernation, the ultimate step inward.  Some of us humans have already felt the movement these animals teach us: to bundle, bring in more nutrients and conserve energy.

Alongside these seasonal changes, November is Native American Heritage Month, or NAHM, so it’s a perfect time to not only look inward as individuals, but look into ourselves as members of a narrative.  

2. Reprogram Our Understanding of History

As people standing for liberation, we can reflect on the legacy of colonization and how to re-educate ourselves and support indigenous communities in a grounded and supportive way.

The myth of Thanksgiving, a holiday that centers an inequitable food system and its many products, marketed as a time of togetherness and gratitude is crumbling faster than dried chamomile. This “gather” marketing is designed to glaze over the shameful history of colonizers who massacred indigenous people through warfare, disease and slavery.  So let’s get into it.

How Did Thanksgiving Start?

In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation for "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer."  Abraham Lincoln almost a century later declared Thanksgiving a national celebration for the last Thursday in November in 1863 in response to the Civil War. The leadership were recalling the memory of a 1621 “feast” that occurred between the early settlers and the Wampanoag tribe who were entangled in a mutual defense pact. 


decolonize thanksgiving Wampanoag

Grab your mulling spiced wine and take a seat, ‘cause this is what really went down

According to The Invention of Thanksgiving, Massasoit Ousamequin, the leader of the Wampenoag led an army of men down to a pilgrim camp in response to gunshots they heard. Instead of wounded pilgrims, they saw pilgrims celebrating and shooting off guns in reverie, probably because some of the tribal folks agreed to protect and teach them to survive the east coast winters. 

The settlers were pretty much stranded, not knowing how to cultivate food on the land or how to prepare for the seasons there, which led the pilgrims to rob the graves of the fallen and settle wherever the natives would tolerate them. Neighboring tribes came together in order to discuss the presence of the settlers and were deciding whether or not to eradicate them or work to help the unwanted visitors.  

Some of the tribes decided to tolerate the pilgrims and created a defense pact. This decision was rooted in mutual exchange to survive, especially considering the health of the tribal members were in steep decline for many tribes following illness.  The harvests after the pilgrims arrived were not fruitful for the natives, marking dark times ahead, but the sharing continued despite these omens and lack of respect by the pilgrims.

As the European colonies expanded, the natives were continuously divided and threatened with more alliance politics, “sales'' driven debt and direct violence. The colonists continued to impose traditions, beliefs and social hierarchy systems upon people who were losing their homes and their life ways. 

Can We Still Celebrate Thanksgiving and Celebrate Indigeneity?

European movements West led to more displacement that decimated populations and their traditions, but now the date is remembered as a time where pilgrims and Native Americans came together “peacefully” to slaughter turkeys (a sacred animal), eat cranberry sauce and offer thanks.  

The truth is, we cannot honor our First Nations relatives and celebrate Thanksgiving. What we have to do now is re-educate ourselves, learn about Indigenous values of honoring the land and Earth’s cycles, the traditional cuisine, and how thanks was given back to the Earth.  

3. Honor the Land, Indigenous Values and Traditions 

Indigenous practices and traditions are rooted in a seasonal and interdependent relationship with the Earth and its cycles. These practices are designed to work in tandem with the spirits of ancestors, the soil, animal allies, seasons, the sun’s journey through the sky, and lunar time. 

Cultivating a relationship with the land and neighboring communities ensures survival for all during these winter months. When we work in tandem with the Earth’s cycles, we can live more sustainable lives while also elevating our local economies. Consuming only what we need lessens the demand for resources that can grow scarce through overconsumption.  

An herbalist knows that because there's a peak season for everything, a finite amount of what grows makes resources precious and perfectly suited for that season. We share these gifts with all the animals and our human community.  This is the season of “giving”.   Living seasonally and sharing with our neighbors not only ensures the survival of just one community, but all communities and sentient beings.

4.  Giving an Herbal Offering to the Land and the Spirits of Ancestors

Trendy New Age spirituality has put undue strain on many native plants.  Sacred Earth Medicines like white sage and palo santo have been so vastly cultivated, that they need support to fully regenerate themselves.  One way we can take the pressure off of indigenous plants that require rest is by smudging Loose Leaf Blends

These herbal blends are versatile, sustainably sourced and made in small batches. You can offer them before building a fire, light them as incense on charcoal, cleanse yourself and your space, make a small mound and light the top of it creating a smudge pile or offer them as gifts for others seeking herbal cleansing. 

Loose Leaf incense blends are a great alternative to sage bundles or harvesting from trees in a growth period.

decolonize thanksgiving

Ways to Embody our Own Indigeneity

When we talk about decolonizing thanksgiving and indigenizing our consciousness, we are talking about 
  • Actively reprogramming our belief systems, 
  • Redirecting our consumption patterns
  • Learning the truth we were not taught in schools, 
  • Evolving our understanding about the indigenous folks in our area, and
  • Healing our relationship with the Earth. 
We can redirect our energy by investing in indigenous economies and becoming familiar with indigenous led initiatives like Seeding Sovereignty or the Indigenous Environmental Network.We can honor each other by familiarizing ourselves with native values, native foods, re-educating ourselves about the truth and tapping into the impact of corporate conglomerates on the Earth. 


Some indigenous foods to Norh America you may want to source from native cultivators:
Maize (corn)
Sweet Potatoes
American Persimmons
Black Cherries
Maple Syrup

    5. Learn How Native Treaties Are Being Broken TODAY

    Unfortunately, our consumption is entangled with unsustainable practices established by major corporations who are actively breaching land treaties to extract and regulate oil, with the “intention” to provide “security” and “better” quality of life for their communities.

    is one of the leading energy delivery companies in North America that is working to improve and replace their pipeline infrastructure through indigenous land. All of which comes at the expense of breaching treaties that were meant to ensure the protection of their water, wetlands, and their survival. 

    According to an article written by The Guardian, with the help of  U.S. financial organizations, $4.6 billion has already been invested by the U.S. to improve the pipeline infrastructure by replacing the existing pipe through 13 miles in North Dakota, 337 miles in Minnesota, and 14 miles in Wisconsin. Upon replacement, the annual capacity of Line 3 will be 760 thousand barrels. 

    Enbridge picked up the tab for the wages, lodging, food, and equipment for the Minnesota police to arrest demonstrators protesting the pipeline. This type of contractual relationship is alarming and something we cannot overlook when holding big companies accountable. In addition, we must cultivate a thorough understanding of the police’s role as regulators of the state. Read the full article here

    6. Listen to Native American Voices

    Christine Nobiss, Plains Cree/Saulteaux of the George Gordon First Nation, wrote an op-ed on Bustle back in 2018 titled Thanksgiving Promotes Whitewashed History, So I Organized Truthsgiving InsteadHer work, Seeding Sovereignty, is aimed toward “dismantling colonial-Imperialist institutions and replacing them with Indigenous practices created in synchronicity with the land”. Nobiss’ article provides a comprehensive breakdown about the history of Thanksgiving and also provides resources for further investigation. 

    Due to the erasure of indigenous voices and narratives from history, the values and truth are overshadowed by larger entities that are vying for our attention and consumption. We can unlearn what we’ve been taught by activating our own indigenous values and aligning them with the movement towards freedom. 


    Supportive Reading and Resources for Further Study

    Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years
    Four Seasons of Corn: A Winnebago Tradition
    Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in Schools
    Truthsgiving: The True History of Thanksgiving
    Media Indigena: Indigenous Current Affairs

      decolonize thanksgiving

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