November 22, 2023

UnThanksgiving Organizers Want to Rethink Colonial Holidays

During a time of year that can be hard for many, especially Indigenous people, community members in Portland are organizing alternatives to Thanksgiving and Black Friday.


Underscore News + ICT

For many, the Thanksgiving “holiday” is complicated. On one hand, it’s a day to be with family and eat a good meal. But it is also a dark reminder of a history of genocide and settler colonialism — and their lasting impacts today.  

“I hope that people feel and understand, get a sense of understanding, why we need to shift in another direction,” said Mick Rose, program coordinator, co-curator and development associate at Prismid Sanctuary. “It feels uncomfortable that people celebrate a day of genocide and mourning.”

Mick Rose, Diné, among the vegetables during the 2022 Wapas Nah Nee Shaku Unthanksgiving Garden Work Party. (Alex Milan Tracy / Underscore News)

‘Mourning genocide, celebrating survival’

Three years ago, Rose, Pawnee, Omaha and Diné, helped start the first annual “UnThanksgiving” day event at the Native American Youth and Family Center, or NAYA, community garden. Some of the inspiration for the event came from time Rose spent living in Australia and supporting organizing work of Indigenous groups there.

“They have a day that is similar to what would be an Independence Day here but they call it Sorry Day,” Rose said. “It’s really about rethinking what does it mean to celebrate holidays that have had a genocidal impact, or celebrate the genocidal impact of settlers in a colonial government.”

This year, NAYA is partnering with with Prismid Sanctuary and Wapato Island Farm for a three-day event — “Mourning Genocide, Celebrating Survival.”

The event will take place one day at each location where community members are invited to help tend the land and reflect on what this time of year means. The day will be centered around a “teach-in” focused on conversations about why a shift away from a colonial holiday built on the genocide of Indigneous people needs to occur, according to Rose.

Open to all, the event will also have BIPOC-only spaces. One will include a basket weaving class led by Lucy Suppah, Warm Springs and Shoshone-Bannock, Indigenous food sovereignty coordinator at NAYA.

“This is definitely a difficult time for a lot of Native and Indigenous people and those who are oppressed in general,” Suppah said. “I think this is a really good way of healing that trauma that a lot of us have experienced and continue to experience through that disconnection of culture and tradition.”

Suppah’s father is a survivor of both boarding school and relocation. His first language was his Native language, but he no longer speaks his first language because he was not allowed to speak it when he was forced to attend boarding school. This is an example of generational trauma that gets passed down.

For Suppah, one of her ways of healing is connecting with the land and providing opportunities for other Indigenous community members to do so. The NAYA community garden plays a huge role in that and in expanding food sovereignty efforts by providing Portland’s urban Indigenous population with access to first foods.

“Tending to the land and interacting with our first foods is a way of being in reciprocity in land and to heal ourselves through what we have been through,” Suppah said. “Also to celebrate our resilience. Sustaining not just our self but our culture and traditions”

Community members are invited to attend the UnThanksgiving Day event that will take place at the three locations over the course of three days. On Nov. 23, the event will be held at NAYA Community Garden; on Nov. 24 the event will be held at Prismid Sanctuary; and on Nov. 25 the event will be held at Wapato Island Farm.

Lukas Angus, Nez Perce, introduces himself to volunteers attending the Wapas Nah Nee Shaku Unthanksgiving Garden Work Party on Nov. 24, 2022. (Alex Milan Tracy / Underscore News)

An alternative to ‘Black Friday’

Six years ago Lluvia Merello, Quechua and Andean/Inca, organized the first of what is now an annual event: Indigenous Marketplace on Black Friday weekend. The event takes place at the PSU Native American Student and Community Center.

Merello is the founder and executive director of Portland Indigenous Marketplace. Since she started the nonprofit five years ago, the number of events the organization puts on each year has grown significantly. For the past two years, the nonprofit has hosted about 20 different marketplace events each year.

This year is the first year the annual Black Friday marketplace event will take place over the course of three days, starting on Nov. 24 and ending on Nov. 26. In total, a little over 50 vendors will sell their products over the course of the weekend. It’s a space to meet the makers and support local Indigenous artists, and Turquoise Pride Drum Group will play each day.

“It’s a really welcoming and wonderful environment for people to connect with the makers and really have an alternative to Black Friday to support local business and local makers instead of the big box retailers,” Merello said.

Lead image: Lukas Angus of the Nez Perce practice a smudging ritual with his 4 year-old daughter Ramona atthe 2022 Wapas Nah Nee Shaku Unthanksgiving Garden Work Party. Lukas says that ‘Thanksgiving is one of these holidays that came about through colonization that I’ve been a part of through indoctrination - being an adult you see the lies. I gather with my family, but that tradition comes from our ancestors always gathering and being thankful for our harvests.”  (Alex Milan Tracy / Underscore News)

About the author

Nika Bartoo-Smith

Nika is a journalist with a passion for working to provide platforms for the voices and experiences of communities often left behind in mainstream media coverage. Most recently, she worked as the health and social services reporter at The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. Prior to working at The Columbian, Nika spent the summer of 2022, after graduating magna cum laude from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism, working as a Snowden Intern at The News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon. A descendant of the Osage and Oneida Nations, Nika was born and raised in Portland. Her favorite way to unwind is by trying a new recipe, curling up with a good book or taking a hike in one of the many green spaces around Portland.

Twitter: @BartooNika


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