Thanksgiving: what’s the point?

Photo of Civil War soldiers from the National Archives, attributed to Mathew Brady

Photo of Civil War soldiers from the National Archives, attributed to Mathew Brady

Sometimes folks who know my Osage and Sioux ancestry ask if we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Sure, I say.

My family, my mother’s family, her mother’s family—all through the generations—have shared supper with friends and relatives, thanking the creator for the harvest bounty.

All communities have a tradition of sharing food and buttoning up the season.

Thanksgiving wasn’t foisted on American Indians: we’ve always honored the beings and spirits that sustain us.

What’s confusing, perhaps, is the timing. And the political agendas.

By late November, throughout the cooler parts of North America, fruits and vegetables have been plucked or have withered, and animals are tucking in for the winter.

Dig into the history books and you’ll learn that Abraham Lincoln used the feast as an opportunity to quell the Civil War unrest and deliver sumptuous meals to the troops.

In 1864, a year after Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated at the tail end of November, “four steamers sailed out of New York laden with 400,000 pounds of ham, canned peaches, apples and cakes—and turkeys with all the trimmings,” writes historian Kenneth C. Davis in the November 25 issue of the New York Times.

The steamers landed in Virginia to deliver the bounty to soldiers.

But the current Thanksgiving holiday—the fourth Thursday of the month—was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the spirit of capital.

Retailers pressured Roosevelt to push back the date to allow more time for holiday shopping.

So: for 75 years Thanksgiving has served as the springboard for…shopping.

Blog #24 for Native American Heritage Month

Read Davis’ essay at


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in american indian, framing, Indian, Native Science, writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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