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The hidden stories of Native health and coronavirus. Alternating between the Navajo Nation and Seattle, each episode shares a new voice from subject specialists and everyday Natives alike. We are Stanford journalists Aja Two Crows (Bitterroot Salish) and Hannah Kelley (Sihásapa Lakóta), bringing you a look at the past to make sense of the present and hope for the future.

A Note From Hannah

Two Holidays in November

While many recall stories taught in school of Native Americans and pilgrims peacefully gathering to share a meal as the fourth Thursday of November approaches, in reality, the history of Thanksgiving is actually quite complex and disputed. The earliest and only documentation of Thanksgiving among two accounts indicates that the Wampanoag helped the first wave of Puritans arriving in North America plant crops, forage for wild foods, and survive in 1621, however, a celebration resembling Thanksgiving occurred years later in 1637 ​after the colonists massacred an entire Pequot village, then celebrated their horrific feat. The formal establishment of Thanksgiving as a holiday follows a series of largely political decisions in the 1800s in order to “heal the divided nation” through whitewashing the event as a peaceful gathering, eliminating the historical abuses and genocide of Native populations. In this blog post, I will​ discuss how Natives choose to engage in the holiday today, and a personal note on how I participate in Thanksgiving, as well as a lesser-known day that directly follows Thanksgiving: Native American Heritage Day.

For some Natives, Thanksgiving Day is a mourning day and a day of protest since it commemorates the arrival of Europeans. While some Natives mourn publically, others may choose to do so in private or simply not participate in the holiday. The third approach that some individuals take to the holiday is to embrace the values of Thanksgiving seated in gratitude and togetherness while remembering the genocide of whole tribes, loss of land, loss of ways of life and culture, forced assimilation, and ongoing racism that followed the arrival of colonizers in the Americas.

Personally, I adopt the third approach as Thanksgiving Day arrives in a normal (non-pandemic) year: I gather with my family, share a meal, and more recently, consider the land that I occupy on the Multnomah land of the Chinookan people in Portland, Oregon as an uninvited guest, as well as the historical losses that continue to impact the wellbeing of Natives today.

Holidays such as Thanksgiving offer a critical period to reflect on our history in order to understand the realities of Natives, as colonization continues to impact the lives of Natives. Simply neglecting the historical context of the holidays that we choose to participate in yields negative consequences on the mental health of Natives and the capacity to work towards repairing relationships.

Just following Thanksgiving Day is Native American Heritage Day, however, you probably did not see announcements of the holiday on your social media feed, in fact, speaking with Aja last week, we realized that both of us had only just recently heard of Native American Heritage Day. The holiday officially began in ​2009, when President Barack Obama signed “The Native American Heritage Day Resolution,” setting ​the Friday after Thanksgiving a​ s Native American Heritage Day. After signing the resolution into law he stated, “I encourage every American to join me in observing Native American Heritage Day,”.....”It is also important for all of us to understand the rich culture, tradition, and history of Native Americans and their status today, and to appreciate the contributions that First Americans have made and will continue to make to our Nation.” While this holiday was signed into law now 11 years ago, since the holiday was placed the day after a significant day known by most individuals in the United States, it should not come as a surprise that many people have not heard of the holiday. ​Today 184 out of 567 federally recognized tribes formally support the holiday for a myriad of reasons, one of which is the placement on a day taking the ​backseat t​o Thanksgiving.

Whether celebrated, mourned, or recognized, these two holidays, Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day provide an opportunity to reflect on our shared history as well as to celebrate the strength and resilience of the Native tribes across North American.

For more resources on the historical context of Thanksgiving Day and how you can actively decolonize the holiday, as well as perspectives on Native American Heritage Day, see the links below:


Historical Context of Thanksgiving
Native American Heritage Day
Anti-Racism and Thanksgiving
Nine Ways to Decolonize Thanksgiving


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About the Project

Portraits of the Pandemic was produced and edited by a small team of Stanford journalists during the summer and fall of 2020. Learn more about our research and process. 

Our Team 

Host, Project Lead: Navajo Nation 

Hannah Kelley

Aja during podcast recording

Host, Project Lead: Seattle

Aja Two Crows

Production and Strategy

Sophia Boyd-Fliegel