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Thanksgiving: Shifting the Narrative to Acknowledge Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Survivance

Land Acknowledgement

Before we begin, we wanted to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory and homelands of Indigenous people. This acknowledgment demonstrates a commitment to beginning the process of working to dismantle the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism.

Awareness of The Complicated Narrative of Thanksgiving

With Thanksgiving being only a few days ago, Take Action Inc. would like to acknowledge the true origins of Thanksgiving and its implications. Most of us have been taught that Thanksgiving was first celebrated as an extended feast where the Wampanoag Nation and the newly arrived Pilgrims celebrated a successful harvest. We were told that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation became friends after Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto, taught the Pilgrims how to survive in Massachusetts and that the two peoples lived in peace and harmony until the Wampanoag Nation was “mysteriously” wiped out. However, the truth is much more violent and unsettling. The arrival of the Pilgrims was not the first time the Wampanoag Nation encountered Europeans. Europeans had been trading and enslaving Native Americans in North America since the early 16th century and disease had ravaged the land of the Wampanoag Nation a few years prior to the Mayflower landing killing thousands of people and leaving few survivors. In fact, the reason why Tisquantum was able to speak English and thus help the Pilgrims was because he was kidnaped and enslaved by English explorer Thomas Hunt and learned English while in Europe. While it is true that the two peoples held a thanksgiving feast in 1621 it wasn’t the first. Thanksgiving feasts were observed long before the arrival of the Pilgrims and continued to be observed after the “first” thanksgiving for a multitude of different reasons.

The peace between the Wampanoag Nation and the Pilgrims was short lived and King Philip’s War began in 1675 after growing tensions between the peoples due to the European’s poor treatment of the Wampanoag Nation. The war lasted three years and resulted in over 40% of the population being killed and many healthy Wampanoag men being sold into slavery. Due to the attempted genocide of the Wampanoag Nation and the genocide of indigenous people across North America, many indigenous people consider the thanksgiving feast held by the Europeans after the war to be the origins of our current day Thanksgiving. Indigenous people consider Thanksgiving a national day of mourning and there are calls to abolish the holiday due to its violent past.

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Current Events: Oil Pipelines Violate Tribal Sovereignty

Along with the history and legal precedent, current events are crucial to consider when talking about Indigenous rights. Today, large companies like the TC Energy Corporation continue to construct oil pipelines that encroach on Native American land, a blatant example of contemporary settler colonialism. Making matters worse, the thousands of barrels of oil transported through these pipelines exacerbate global warming, ultimately furthing us from a sustainable future.

One of these transcontinental oil pipelines is the Keystone XL, which rapidly transports tar sands oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Illinois and Texas. TC Energy Corporation, the energy infrastructure company in charge of developing keystone, began the pipeline’s construction around 2008, which is when protests against it started too. Since 2016, with the completion of phase three of construction, the Keystone pipeline has delivered approximately 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day to the Texas refineries. This oil passes through and nearby Indigenous lands, such as those of First Nations, Pawnee, Ponca, Fort Belk-nap Indian Community, Gros Ventre Tribe, and Oceti Sakowin. It also endangers the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies water for Native and non-Native users’ residential and agricultural needs on the High Plains in eight states.

Similar to the Keystone XL, the Dakota Access pipeline transports crude oil from its oil source, the Bakken formation in northwest North Dakota, to an oil terminal near Patoka, Illinois and is owned by Energy Transfer. In crossing North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois, the pipeline impacts and passes through the lands of Standing Rock Sioux Nation, Oceti Sakowin, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and Muscogee Nation in Iowa. Therefore, this pipeline also gave rise to large protests with Pan-Indigenous support. The people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe mobilized to prevent the Dakota Access pipeline from crossing through their unceded territories and threatening the Missouri River alongside the tribe’s eastern boundary. This became known as the #NoDAPL movement that galvanized hundreds of thousands.

Clearly, settler colonialism is not a thing of the past. It still continues today in combination with capitalism, which allows for government-supported corporate exploitation and seizing of Indigenous land and resources. With TC Energy and Energy Transfer breaking treaty obligations, denying tribal sovereignty by encroaching on Indigenous land, creating conditions that put Indigenous health and livelihood at risk as US Americans have done throughout history, oil pipelines are an example of this modern settler colonialism. On an environmental front, these pipelines emit methane, which locks in heat and contributes to global warming. Oil spills from these pipelines increase the risk of cancer and respiratory and neurological diseases, especially for Native Americans. Ultimately, by allowing the United States to easily transport and extract crude oil, oil pipelines fortify our dependence on fossil fuels, pushing us in the wrong direction when it comes to moving to renewable energy sources and more sustainable practices to fight climate change.

Nonetheless, after years of awareness walks, informational workshops, self-defense workshops, protests, and legal observing, Indigenous activists fighting the Keystone pipeline experienced a victory. President Biden signed an Executive Order revoking the Keystone XL pipeline permit that the Trump administration granted, blocking the phase four extension from being built and stopping the entire system from operating. However, the Dakota Access pipeline and numerous others like Line 3 are still thriving.

Since our inaction allows for such injustice to continue and the settler colonial history to repeat itself, it is imperative that we join this fight against oil pipelines and in support of tribal sovereignty and environmental justice to prevent these injustices from continuing. Some ways to take action include:

  • Raising awareness about this information

  • Taking a Native American studies class

  • Doing your own research

  • Divesting from companies, such as Wells Fargo, US bank, and Chase, that contribute to the fossil fuel industry

  • Listening to and amplify Indigenous voices

  • Getting involved in and supporting, such as through donations, organizations, like Indigenous Environmental Network,, Honor the Earth, Standing Rock Youth Council, and EarthJustice.

  • Writing to the Biden administration and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline. In fact, EarthJustice has an email template to easily write to the Biden administration.

  • Reflecting on your implicit biases

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Activist Spotlight: Winona Laduke

Winona Laduke is an internationally renowned activist, economist, and author for her advocacy work on Native American rights and on sustainable development in energy and food systems. She is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, the largest reservation-based non-profit in the country, the Indigenous Women’s Network, and Honor the Earth.

Hulu TV Show: "Reservation Dogs"

“Reservation Dogs,” made by a cast and crew of almost all Indigenous creatives, and filmed entirely on indigenous land, has turned the typical narrative surrounding Indigenous people on its head. This comedy series follows the story of four teenagers living on a small reservation in rural Oklahoma. As the group mourns the death of their friend Daniel, the teens raise money through a series of heists in the hopes of moving to California - as Daniel had dreamed of doing.

Since “Reservation Dogs” does not depict the wide array of cultures and experiences within Indigenous communities, viewers hope that this is a step towards achieving truthful and nuanced representation in American media.

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Podcast Highlight: "All My Relations:"

"In this episode, All My Relations explores the topic of cultural appropriation—it’s become such a buzzword, but what is it, really? Adrienne and Matika care deeply about Native representation, and talk constantly about this subject. Here, you'll have the opportunity to listen into that conversation, as we reveal our feelings about the infamous white savior photographer Edward S. Curtis, Halloween, answer listener questions, and more."

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