Hunter discusses what Thanksgiving means to Native Americans

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Submitted by: Lonna Hunter

Hunter’s community doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving; instead she looks at it as an opportunity to spend time with her family. “For us, [Thanksgiving] is a memorialization of what [Thanksgiving] has represented,” Hunter said.

As a member of the Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Dakota Nations, Lower School parent Lonna Hunter has a complex relationship with Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving was based on the values of the Native Americans on the East Coast, and all our traditions in Native culture are all celebrated with food, so for us, it is another time to come together a share a meal. To us, that is a very powerful thing as you feed another’s spirit by sharing a meal with them,” Hunter said.

Hunter is a very active member in her communities, where Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated traditionally, if at all.

“We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional way and say ‘Oh, it’s Thanksgiving and we have a lot to be grateful for.’ For us it’s almost about the memorialization of what that has represented. When we see the pilgrims and Indians come together, it represents one of our core values – generosity,” Hunter said.

[It’s important] to be able to come together and acknowledge those who came before us.”

— Lonna Hunter

Thanksgiving doesn’t only represent generosity to Hunter, though.

“What people forget to tell are the [stories of] cultural genocide that occurred and the broken treaties. Treaties are considered in the Constitution to be the supreme law of the land which means that they are first laws of the land. So, to us, Thanksgiving represents probably more historical trauma then I would say a celebration,” Hunter said.

The one tradition Hunter and her family has is visiting their ancestors.

“If we do anything on those days [off from school], and not just Thanksgiving, we visit the graves of our ancestors,” Hunter said.

Hunter further explained the significance of visiting her ancestor’s graves, and its meaning to her community.

“[It’s important] to be able to come together and acknowledge those who came before us. We live for every day – we don’t just say me or I, we say we. And when we say we, we mean who is here now, those ancestors who have gone before us, and those future generations who have yet to come,” Hunter said.