Thanksgiving, thankfulness isn't 'owned by any particular group,' says UWindsor Indigenous scholar

Andrea Sullivan-Clarke doesn’t believe that any one particular group of people has a monopoly on being thankful.

Still, ask the University of Windsor Indigenous scholar how she feels about the holiday annually celebrated in the U.S. on the fourth Thursday of November, and she’ll tell you her feelings on the subject have changed over the years.

When she was young, Sullivan-Clarke — a member of the Wind clan of the Muskogee Nation of Oklahoma — said she used to have a typical “Western idea” of Thanksgiving. 

“Family coming together, big dinner, football games, things like that,” she said. 

As she got older — and as she grew more connected to her tribe — her opinions on Thanksgiving adapted with as she did. 

“The focus on just being thankful has been something that I’ve been thinking about, and not just having it for one day,” she said, adding that it’s easy to get caught up in the “capitalism of it.” 

I think the school system really reinforces the standard story.– Andrea Sullivan-Clarke, on the Plymouth Rock Thanksgiving narrative

Sullivan-Clarke said it wasn’t really until her post-secondary career that she began to become aware of the “different ideas that were there.”

“I think the school system really reinforces the standard story,” she said, referring to the narrative of friendly Indigenous people providing aid to struggling pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts aboard the Mayflower. 

At the same time, Sullivan-Clarke said it’s only recently that close family members — including her father — have begun to openly talk about the revisions made to history.

“There was an erasure of culture in my family,” she said.

“I feel like sometimes my life has been a recovery effort in that area — recovering the things that we had lost during that time.”

Sullivan-Clarke said that being able to connect with her Indigenous identity — being able to learn more about her tribe — has also enabled her to be more thankful everyday.

“I’ve encountered something here that I didn’t expect. In my interactions with the local Indigenous people, I have learned how thankful they are all the time,” she said. 

Sullivan-Clarke also bristles at the notion that any one particular group of people has a monopoly on thankfulness.

“I don’t see that anyone has the corner on being thankful,” she said. “I think if you look around and you take a look at your life, there are things to be thankful for. And I don’t think that that’s owned by any particular group, to be honest.”

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