Transition & Resilience grants Click here

M. Karlos Baca · November 18, 2018

Decolonizing Thanksgiving And Reviving Indigenous Relationships to Food

Consider the songs, the kinship, the lineal seed keepers, and ceremonies that guided Indigenous cosmologies, landscapes and people. Those sacred commitments left no person hungry or without medicine or without worth.

Each fall as we enter the month of November, Indigenous people are confronted with the pervasive settler colonial narratives of our history by way of the holiday referred to as Thanksgiving. This willful whitewashing of the past seeks to further eradicate the true lineages of this land through a falsified unity construct between the colonizer and the Wampanoag people, while perpetrating a continued violence against Indigenous ways of being as a whole. 

As an Indigenous foods activist and voice, I have deep concerns about the consequences of this false narrative.  How does the whitewashing of Thanksgiving impact the first people of this land and our relationship to food? And how do we reclaim and rematriate the seeds of our ceremonial food ways?

To look deeper into possible answers we must examine the systematic warfare against Indigenous foodways and food systems that started in 1492 and continues today with $29 gallons of milk at the supermarkets on modern day First Nations in Canada. 

First, imagine pre-colonial Indigenous societies and their food systems: A city of pyramids, Tenochtitlan, built on a lake filled with floating gardens and a people that lived in such reverence of that which nourished them, that the translation for huautli, also known as amaranth, is “the smallest giver of life.” Consider the vast agricultural societies of the desert southwest, the Pueblo and Dinè and ranging down all the way from the Havasupai of the Grand Canyon, the Yaqui in the Valley of the Sun, to the northern Sonoran Desert and the O’odham tribes. 

Consider the Nations who tended fruit and nut trees.  Imagine the gardens of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers that were the ecological knowledge of the Wampanoag- the very knowledge that saved the pilgrims from starvation. Consider the songs, the kinship, the lineal seed keepers, and ceremonies that guided Indigenous cosmologies, landscapes and people. Those sacred commitments left no person hungry or without medicine or without worth. 

And now, understand the deliberate effort of colonizers to disconnect Indigenous people from our relationship to our traditional and ceremonial foodways- relationships that made us whole.  Understand the traumas of forced relocation, of slash and burn campaigns from Haudenasaunee territory to Canyon de Chelly, our hunting grounds deforested, waterways damned, and our individual and communal indigeneity gradually outlawed. Consider the settler adage that “every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.”  

Now fast forward to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, 486 years after the first attacks on our being, and consider that it has only been forty years since we have “legally” been allowed to restore our commitments to these lands. Forty years. 

Gete Okosomin Bisque in Molcajete, Photo by Andi Murphy 

Each fall as we enter the month of November, Indigenous people are confronted with the pervasive settler colonial narratives of our history by way of the holiday referred to as Thanksgiving.

Today, we sit in a powerful place in history, and we are reconnecting to who we once were. Reclamation of language, ceremony, and foodways are guiding us back into balance. Our matrilineal heritage has been invoked and we now see our women heading to Congress.  Mothers are bringing traditional birthing practices home.  We are witnessing the rematriation of tribal seeds, the Indigenous food sovereignty movement, and our collective voices are shifting consciousness on a global level. 

To recognize that we are here, that the seeds of our matriarchs, carried woven into hair and hem, have been prayed over, honored and placed back into the womb of our earth mother and accepted water offering, is the most poetic and just testament to Indigenous resilience. 

To be sure, the colonial narrative of Thanksgiving is a lie, but just as our oral traditions and histories are there for us to reclaim, we can’t forget the communal power and personal obligation to rewrite this ceremony through our sacred, lineal commitments to food. 


M. Karlos Baca
M. Karlos Baca

M. Karlos Baca (Tewa/Dinè/Nuuciu)is an Indigenous Foods Activist, founder of Taste of Native Cuisine, and a cofounder of the I-Collective.

November 2020 Edition

Stay Informed. Take Action.

Subscribe to the NDN allies newsletter

Sign up to get our newsletter. Delivered once per month.

We care about the protection of your data and would never sell your email or share it with anyone without your permission.

Posted 1 year ago Alcatraz Canoe Journey: Honoring 50 Years of Indigenous Resistance and Persistence

Jade Begay

"If we work to reframe Alcatraz as a symbol for Indigenous sovereignty and reposition it in people’s psyche that way, it could be a very powerful thing, especially for people who are so often forgotten overlooked and marginalized like Natives in America."
Posted 3 days ago NDN Collective Leadership Urges the Biden Administration to Name Rep. Deb Haaland Secretary of the Interior
To book an interview, contact aprill@megaphonestrategies.com
Posted 2 weeks ago I’m a Native veteran. Today, I invite fellow service members to join me in fighting for collective liberation.

Krystal Two Bulls

"My experience of being a woman, Indigenous, and a veteran is complicated, to say the least. The history of Native people serving in the U.S. military is long, and not accidental. During WWI, Native folks started enlisting at higher rates, because the U.S. government told Indigenous leaders if their sons enlisted, they could have their land back."
Posted 3 weeks ago How to Survive the Elections: Organizing Forward, Indigenously

Jade Begay

2020 has been an especially challenging year for our People, and yet, this election is affording us with the opportunity to change the course of things in a big way.
Posted 3 weeks ago Sko Vote Den: A nuanced call for Native folx to GOTV, because voting while Native is complex yet necessary!
A play on the intertribal social dance powwows where Native people and powwow goers visit casually while enjoying culture and building relationships, the Sko Vote Den Virtual Intertribal was designed to build political awareness and joy around getting out the vote in Indian Country.
Posted 3 weeks ago NDN Collective Appoints Gaby Strong to Managing Director of the NDN Foundation
Gaby brings extensive experience across nonprofit, Tribal and philanthropic sectors and will lead the growth and impact of the NDN Foundation.
Posted 4 weeks ago LANDBACK Updates: From Launch to Looking Forward
A message from Krystal Two Bulls, LandBack Campaign Director. "LANDBACK is happening and it is an honor to step into a long legacy of organizing and sacrifice."
Posted 1 month ago NDN Collective Selects Ten Indigenous Radical Imagination Artists from Across Turtle Island
Over the next year, each selected artist will receive a grant up to $50,000 to support their community embedded project that envisions the future world we are striving towards.
Posted 2 months ago NDN Collective LANDBACK Campaign Launching on Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2020
The LANDBACK Campaign is a multi-pronged effort to get Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands and achieve justice for Indigenous people. NDN also announces a webinar and four calls-to-action leading up to Indigenous Peoples' Day 2020.
Posted 2 months ago SKO VOTE DEN: Why voting in NDN Country matters, AND a NEW podcast hosted Jade Begay

Jade Begay

Voting is a complicated topic in NDN Country and yet a critical component of a multi-pronged strategy for building power. To unpack this, NDN Collective announces the Sko Vote Den podcast.
Posted 2 months ago Grant Writing Webinar Series for Indigenous Communities and Tribal Nations
This four-part grant writing webinar series for Indian Country is hosted by Kauffman & Associates, Inc. with registration fees sponsored by NDN Collective.
NDN Collective
317 Main St #1
Rapid City, SD 57701
P: +1 (605) 791-3999
E: info@ndncollective.org
© 2020 NDN Collective. All rights reserved.