Thanksgiving in Indian Country

Thanksgiving celebration, and gratitude, come in different shapes and sizes. Some people gather with friends and neighbors for a meal and reflection on the good things in their lives. Some travel to be with loved ones, and some practice gratitude daily, rather than setting it aside for one special Thursday in November.

11-22-16-sara-fills-the-pipe-3_blog-smSara Fills The Pipe, an Elder from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, has spent her Thanksgiving in some of these ways, but also in ways that are very different – even across the generations of her own life. Read her story, “Sara Fills the Pipe on Thanks & Thanksgiving,” to learn how she has spent Thanksgiving, what she has taught her children and grandchildren about the first Thanksgiving and her questions about the holiday.

Like Sara, each of PWNA’s partners and reservation communities has a different take on Thanksgiving – ranging from a day of gratitude to a day of mourning. In an effort to support families and communities in however they wish to recognize it, PWNA offers a Thanksgiving service to reservation-based program partners, providing foods that have come to be the typical fare for this controversial holiday. This is one of the many ways PWNA provides food throughout our service area.

PWNA partners may participate in the Thanksgiving service in one of two ways. One way is a community-wide meal prepared by the partner and local volunteers, to be shared by all community members. Each community meal delivery typically includes turkey, vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes and pies – enough to feed the number of people anticipated by each partner. Another way to participate is through individual family meal bags. In this, the partner orders enough meal boxes to serve every Elder in their community. A family meal box will feed up to six people and includes foods similar to those provided for community meals.

Annually, PWNA partners request thousands of Thanksgiving meals, and this year, PWNA is providing enough food for just over 38,000 people in the Northern Plains and Southwest. Through the heartfelt work of our partners, this impact will be felt across seven different states, reaching into 70 communities on 24 reservations – for this one holiday alone! PWNA’s staff is fortunate to connect with some of the partners hosting these meals. We are always welcomed with smiles and hugs, often followed by an apron, hairnet and gloves! It’s always an honor to serve and visit these communities.

My own childhood memories of Thanksgiving involve “the kids table” and a mass of food that took days to prepare and about 10 minutes to eat (not including the leftovers). The holiday included aunts and uncles and cousins that only congregated every so often as a family. I remember crawling up on my grandfather’s lap and sipping coffee out of his mug (it was really cream and sugar with a dash of coffee). And, of course, I likely learned about the first meal between Indians and pilgrims while seated with my classmates sporting a black pilgrim hat or a feather headdress made from construction paper.  As a Lakota woman, I am happy to know so much more of the history and truth about this particular holiday and to recognize that I have much to be thankful for every day.

Although Sara hasn’t decided where she will end up for Thanksgiving this year, we hope you think about her, her family, her story and the people and places you are grateful for on Thanksgiving and year round.

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