I have a question for you: what does Thanksgiving mean to you?
This holiday has always been my favorite because it means lots of food, family, and an intentional pause in our busy lives to give thanks for the good and, even sometimes, the bad.
Thanksgiving evokes memories of being in the kitchen with my female relatives, learning how to make the gravy without lumps. It brings back that teenage longing to sit at the grown-up’s table. It makes me think of all of the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and those soft dinner rolls. I especially miss my maternal grandmother during the holidays. She had a soft voice, but she was the family director. We sang songs, played games, and generally went where she told us. She was the gravy master. I was just the muscle to whisk it seemingly forever.
The other thing this holiday brings up is the story I was taught as a child: Pilgrims and Indians making friends. My ancestors signed the Mayflower compact. In the past, this was a point of pride! Thinking about how my relatives shaped this nation into what it is today.
It was not until recently that I learned that the story of the original Thanksgiving was largely a myth. In fact, the holiday of Thanksgiving was created during the Civil War as a way to bring a divided nation together (sound familiar?). It’s not just a myth, it’s an active cover for the atrocities that were suffered upon the indigenous people of the area, the Wampanoag. The pilgrims were able to establish a foothold on Cape Cod because a plague of European origin had just recently gone through the population of the area, killing an estimated 70-90% of the people living there. Yes, the Wampanoag helped the pilgrims survive by showing them how to plant crops. But also, the pilgrims raided graves and massacred entire villages.
I’m glad I know this history. I need to know that my ancestors stole this land and that their survival was based on the knowledge of the Wampanoag and the many other indigenous peoples who had cultivated this land for thousands of years.
I’m also thankful for the indigenous leaders who are speaking out and giving us hope. I highly recommend that you read this article by Sam Sherman, aka The Sioux Chef. His words inspired my message to you today. And I think he finishes his story perfectly:
“No matter where you are in North America, you are on indigenous land. And so on this holiday, and any day really, I urge people to explore a deeper connection to what are called “American” foods by understanding true Native-American histories, and begin using what grows naturally around us, and to support Native-American growers. There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.”
Let’s start celebrating indigenous foods: Did you know that a huge number of the foods we eat are indigenous in origin? Maple syrup, squash, pumpkins, beans, corn, wild rice, tomatoes, potatoes, and turkey!
Here’s a recipe from the Sioux Chef. This article gives lots more indigenous recipes.
Maple-Brined Smoked Turkey
Recipe courtesy of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley
Serves 10 to 12
- 10-pound turkey with giblets removed
- 4 quarts water
- 1 cup coarse salt
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons whole juniper berries
- 1 large sprig sage
- 4 to 6 cups wood chips (hickory, apple, or hazelnut)
- Sunflower oil for rubbing the turkey
1. Place the turkey in a large container (a food-safe bucket or big pot). In a saucepan, heat about 1 quart of the water with the salt until it dissolves. Cool. Then add the salt water, the remaining water, maple syrup, juniper berries and sage to the turkey. Make sure the turkey is fully submerged. Cover (weigh the turkey down, if necessary) and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Soak the wood chips in cold water for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the turkey and pat dry.
2. Prepare a charcoal grill or smoker for indirect heat, at about 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle in enough of the soaked wood chips to cover the coals and allow them to char.
3. Place the turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. Brush the turkey with the sunflower oil. Place the turkey in the grill or smoker and cook until the internal temperature of the thigh registers 165°F, about 3½ to 4½ hours. Remove and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.