Thanksgiving is a highly misrepresented holiday. By now, it has been made known the inaccuracies of the original story that we are told as kids about pilgrims and natives sitting peacefully and equally together having dinner. The true story of the Native Americans and their relationship with the pilgrims is one much sadder than that. The modern Native American perspective on the holiday is much different than that of other Americans. Thanksgiving, also referred to as the National Day of Mourning, holds a different meaning. With Thanksgiving approaching, let us give thanks but also remember the people, the land, and their food; A Native American Thanksgiving.

A Different Perspective

The National Day of Mourning is held every year the same day as Thanksgiving and its goal is to educate people, honor ancestors and traditions, and deride common stories of what occurred on ‘the first Thanksgiving.’ Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota Sioux chef, says in Time Magazine, “Thanksgiving really has nothing to do with Native Americans… It is a story of supposed unity, drained of the bloodshed, and built for the sake of division.” The issue is not the modern way in which holiday is celebrated, rather the misinformation about the origins that further erases cultures and history and the complete disregard for any kind of violence that took place. So this year, take the time, observe the day of mourning, and listen. 


The Haudenosaunee is an alliance of six Native American nations. Their Thanksgiving Address is a reading that is read aloud before larger group meetings, and it gives great insight into ‘Thanksgiving’ for them. This beautiful piece encaptures wonderful things to be thankful for that the land and skies provide. The multitude of connections between humans and the earth are at the core values.

To be strong and powerful people who have managed to live off the land and strive on their own without the interference or “help” from any colonial power and then described as “gentle” (in the words of Christopher Columbus) would definitely be a wrong understanding. This heartening address is beautiful but it is not to be mistaken with the powerful people behind the message and the brutality that they faced. They should not, for one second, be mistook for being weak.

Although, it is these beautiful outlooks that define the many different Native American cultures, and the food is great as well. As Sherman says, “we do not need the poisonous ‘pilgrims and Indians’ narrative… Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity and gratitude. And we can make the day about what everybody wants to talk and think about anyway: the food.”


“The Three Sisters” are staple crops of Native American ancestral recipes, those being corn, beans, and squash, given this name by the Haudenosaunee and the Cherokee because of the way each of the crops nurture and benefit the others. Much like family, the crops use each other to grow. For example, in order for beans to grow, they need something to climb which corn, that grows in stalks, is able to provide. In turn, beans equip the soil with nitrogen that is essential for corn to grow. The squash crops have large leaves that provide shade and shelter to allow the soil to keep more moisture. These three crops are essentials in many different Native American cuisines, not only for their nutrients, but for the delicious combo they provide in stews and sautés.

Another staple is wild rice, which is technically not rice but a grain indigenous to North America. Properly called manoomin, the Ojibwe love this dish because of the amount of nutrients and taste. Manoomin is often paired with things like cranberries, onions, and mushrooms making it a great option to add to your Thanksgiving spread.

And I can’t talk about Native American foods without talking about fry bread. While not being a native crop to the Americas, wheat is at the base of the dish. As Native Americans were kicked off their land and onto land that wasn’t as suited for farming, adaptations were needed in order to survive and to stay full, thus, fry bread was born. Although there are several variations, fry bread is a flat bread fried in some kind of oil or shortening. Many Navajo nations use flour for the base, though cornmeal is sometimes substituted as well. After being rolled out, flat discs are put into a cast-iron skillet until golden brown. Through the years fry bread has become a base for other Native American dishes as well, like Navajo tacos, which is fry bread topped with meat and other toppings common to that of a Mexican taco.

As you may have noticed, many of these core ingredients are at the base of your Thanksgiving meals already. The history that can be found in our own foods tells the real stories of this land and of Thanksgiving. It is the oldest cuisine of North America and also the most misunderstood. I urge you to educate yourself, listen, and get in the kitchen to try these dishes. In the wise words of Sean Sherman, “There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.”