Operation Thanksgiving Hope: Feeding Native Americans This Holiday Season

Most Americans cannot wait to celebrate Thanksgiving – from the savory taste of turkey and sweet smell of pumpkin pie to the time spent with loved ones we don’t see often. People across many cultures celebrate this day while blending in their own special customs and traditions. Unfortunately for Native Americans, this day of gathering and gratitude is bittersweet. It can be difficult to embrace the spirit of the holiday when the painful truth lingers in the back of our minds, especially as many live with hardship every single day.

The sugar-coated story teaches us that Thanksgiving commemorates a time when Puritans arrived on our shores and were warmly welcomed by the Wampanoag Tribe in 1621. This tribe showed them how to plant crops, forage for foods and survive in the ‘New World’. In exchange for the tribe’s hospitality, the fabricated story and images depict the Puritans and the Wampanoag celebrating side by side.

In actuality, the first official mention of a ‘Thanksgiving’ celebration occurred in 1637, after colonists brutally massacred an entire Pequot community and subsequently celebrated the victory. Despite its nefarious beginning, many Native Americans now observe the holiday along with the rest of the country – but any similarities stop at eating dinner with family.

Navajo Elders Betty and George receive their Thanksgiving meal. Tsaile, Apache County, AZ on the Navajo Nation

While the history of Thanksgiving is a fable, reservation life is very real. Deep poverty, soaring rates of joblessness, and lack of access to food and water are among the many challenges facing First Americans today. In 2021, up to 43% of Native children live in poverty. These are the descendants of Indigenous peoples who lived successfully off this land for thousands of years before colonization (and taught the settlers who came after them how to survive) – descendants now being subjected to the effects of unmet treaty obligations, imbalanced policies and decades of financial hardship.

Centuries of unjust living conditions, paired with the recent continued impact of COVID-19, will unfortunately leave many families without a Thanksgiving meal this year. PWNA’s Operation Thanksgiving Hope campaign is part of a massive effort to provide Thanksgiving meals to community members across reservations in the Northern Plains and Southwest. Our goal is to distribute healthy food for 6,500 people this year.  

Everyone deserves a warm meal on Thanksgiving Day, especially Native Americans. Our Native ancestors may not have had the chance to enjoy a ‘Thanksgiving’ meal with loved ones, but it’s on us to ensure that Native families can today. Please donate here.

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