A Day of Thanksgiving?

Did you know that each year while Anglo Americans celebrate Thanksgiving that Native peoples gather in Plymouth Massachusetts to observe a day of mourning?
 

Since I learned that I will never be able to think of Thanksgiving the same way. I learned this from a children’s book called “1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving” which tells the historically accurate version of the impromptu  feast celebrating a sucessful hunting trip on which we model our current celebrations.

Turns out, actually, that the original Thanksgiving feast with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag nation was not in November of 1621. More accurately, that communal celebration was held around August or September–the traditional time of harvest for northern latitudes. In that case, if Americans want to honor that celebration, it would be more appropriate for them to celebrate the harvest at the traditional harvest celebration known as Mabon.

However, it is still troubling to observe a celebration that turned into 3 centuries of heartache for one of the parties. Within 17 years of the harvest feast between the settlers of the Mayflower and the Wampanoag tribe, relations deteriorated to such an extent that the Wampanoag lost their political independence and much of their homeland. By 1676, their chief had been killed and his son and many other Natives were sold into slavery. Today, the Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder of bloodshed and betrayal, which is why each year they gather around the statue of their fallen chief and hold a vigil in the memory of their ancestor’s struggles and the loss of their land.

The day of Thanksgiving was set by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 when he declared two Thanksgivings that year: one commemorating the Battle of Gettysberh and the other in November, a national day of thanksgiving for all blessings in general. The feast shared between the Mayflower settlers and the Wampanoag people was then conflated as a precedent and became the model for our modern celebrations.

It is still valid to observe a day of Thanksgiving the way that President Lincoln intended. Just as we recognize the praiseworthiness of President Obama’s National Day of Service, we can recognize that a national day of thanksgiving instituted by a U.S. president 150 years ago. At the same time, the heartache of the native peoples cannot be ignored. Our celebrations, once we have gained the awareness, will be changed by that knowledge.

This year, and I hope each year after, part of my Thanksgiving observance will be a memorial for the unjust wars, genocides and violence committed against various groups by imperialism and patriarchy.  For me, Thanksgiving will become a day of awareness of bigotry and intolerance wherever it exists, a somber day or memoriam for the genocides that have been and continue to be throughout the world. Because of the heaviness of that realization, and how it overshadows a day of thanksgiving, I’m really feeling the need for transmuting thanksgiving to the autumnal equinox.

The historical account of European settlers taking over Native American lands in Massachusetts is an isolated example of injustices that have occurred throughout time. Where is the day that remembers all of it together? The Holocaust, the Crusades, the Trail of Tears, Tiananmen Square, the Cambodian killing fields, Darfur, Rwanda, the desaparecidos of South America, the September 11th attacks, international sex trafficking, and  the millions of girls who are aborted or left to die because they were born female are all stories that fill our history and our current events with the sobering realization that all is not well with the world.

In Mother Wove the Morning (p. 22), Carol Lynn Pearson chronicles what it means to be female in some parts of the world:  ”The historical preference for males over females has left an amazing disparity in the statistics of a recently completed census in developing countries.  Sixty million women are missing — because of female infanticide, selective abortion, little girls not being given the same food or medical treatment as their brothers.  And the estimate is worldwide — more than one hundred million gone because they were born or about to be born female.  Well, we are still rightly horrified that just decades ago six million were killed because they were Jewish.  What can our minds even do with these numbers?”

The monument at the gates of Dachau, the former Holocaust concentration camp

We could join with the people of Dachau in saying “Never Again” to the injustices perpetuated throughout the world. By never forgetting what has happened and by being aware of what is happening, we can be apart of doing what we can to stand against injustice, to mourn with those who mourn and as a member of our global community insist to leaders everywhere they that too stop the atrocities that are occurring in their jurisdictions.

In order to accomplish these goals, we start small. A day of awareness, even just an evening, an hour or a minute, is a good place to start. This November 24, consider taking a minute to share in the vigil of the Wampanoag tribe. Light a candle and say a prayer for the people of the world.

Other ideas to observe the American Thanksgiving as a Day of Genocide Awareness:

  1. Place a candle in your window sill in remembrance.
  2. After your Thanksgiving meal, take a walk through your neighborhood with family and friends while carrying lit candles.
  3. Instead of a large feast, prepare a simple meal to share with family and friends and donate the remainder of what you would have spent to a any number of organizations that are working on human rights issues.
  4. Each year, choose an organization or effort to which you can donate or volunteer around the Thanksgiving holiday. Invite children, family and friends to join with you in these efforts.
  5. Organize a vigil in your community or neighborhood during the week of Thanksgiving.
  6. Blog, tweet and facebook about the true story of Thanksgiving and what you do to remember societal injustice.
  7. Instead of Black Friday deals at major retailers, shop local and free trade to ensure that your purchases are not produced by exploitation of laborers, or check out the WAVE Holiday Shopping Guide for online shopping options.

WAVE Holiday and Gift Shopping Guide

The Christmas shopping season is upon us again. Last year, Ask a Feminist was asked about donor organizations that do honorary Christmas gifts at the holidays. This year, the Women’s Service Mission will be looking at other ways to give gifts at Christmas time that downplay the rampant consumerism of the shopping season.

Fair Trade Shopping

Instead of a donation, you are giving work to hardworking craftspeople, empowering them to be able to provide for themselves and their families. You also receive a product in return, which then becomes the holiday gifts you give to your loved ones. This type of shopping is becoming more and more common as the internet connects consumers from the developed world with artisans from the developing world. Below are a few online outlets for shopping that supports artisans and crafters:

Novica is a division of National Geographic that connects consumers with artisans around the world. Their mission states:

We want to give artists and artisans around the world a global platform to express their true artistic talents and to spur their creativity. And, we want to provide you with access to unique, hard-to-find items at great values that only the Internet infrastructure can allow.

At the deepest essence of our philosophy, we want to create a bridge between you and the many talented artisans across the globe.

We want you to know about who you’re buying from. We want you to feel that attachment to the product and to the hands that created it.

In the spirit of the Internet, let us bring you together.

Noonday Collection is an innovative company started by a mother who adopted from Ghana and was inspired to find a way to empower the people of the region and prevent the number of children who spend their childhoods in orphanages. The mission of Noonday states: “our passion at noonday collection is to connect you with the lives of artisans struggling for a better future while styling you along the way. fashion and design are a vehicle for opportunity and change. you, too, can be a voice for the oppressed!”

From the Noonday website:

Delicate Fortress Creations‘s mission is to fight human trafficking by empowering victims and survivors through vocational training. The website features household and personal goods made by trafficking victims who are working themselves to economic security.

A little sampling:

 

The Hunger Site funds at least 25 cups of food for the hungry when you buy products from their site. Rather than directing paying artisans for their work, The Hunger Site send the proceeds to organizations that are fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa and in the United States. You can also shop for different causes: breast cancer, animals, veterans, autism, child health, literacy and rainforest. They offer a wide selection of gifts, home decor, and personal goods. You’ll find that this site offers the widest variety of goods. You’ll probably be able to find something for everyone on your list.

Guancasco focuses on artisans and craftspeople from Honduras. They ensure that each artisan earns enough to pay for food, housing, education, and health care. The site also help them achieve economies of scale by financing and buying materials they need for production in bulk, which lowers costs. The Honduran artistry is truly beautiful.

 

World of Good is a division of ebay designed to a world-wide marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping. They feature tens of thousands of stylish and unique products from around the world. Their selection is amazing. Here you can also find European and North American sellers.

Crafters Funding Humanitarian Efforts

The following are a different category of shopping. These shops are funded by donations of goods, the proceeds from the products then go to humanitarian organizations.

You’ll recognize Talents of Sisters which was founded by our very own Courtney Cooke. If you have finished crafts, its the perfect time to get them listed on Talents of Sisters in time for Christmas! Make sure to check out their favorites for items listed by supporting etsy sellers.

Mercy House is the online shop for the non-profit Mercy House, founded in part by the mommy blogger “We Are That Family.” The mission of Mercy House is to create a safe house for victims of rape and pregnant women in poverty in Kenya. The program offers a Sustainable Skills program that helps women learn skills and create business to help support them and their children. They too collect donations from crafters and the proceeds go to the Mercy House in Kenya.

Gifts of Donations

Sometimes, the person on your shopping list does not need any more items given to them and they really do appreciate a gift on their behalf to families in the developing world.

Heifer International is one of the best known organizations for Christmas giving. It can be quite fun to shop their catalog and pick out chickens, cows and goats that you know will give to a family who will turn that animal into a source of income and food to provide for their needs and then pass a gift of empowerment onto another member of their communities. I have fond memories of being the recipient of gifts on my behalf.

Kiva is a highly recommended site for empowering individuals throughout the world through microloans to fund their businesses. Each donation is actually a loan, which is paid back over time. Giving a gift to a loved one of a Kiva loan means you can either start them on a cycle of giving where they can reloan the amount again and again or they can take the money out and use it as a gift, after it has first helped a struggling family secure economic stability.

Global Giving is one of the highest ranked charitable giving sites by Charity Navigator. Humanitarian projects from all over the world are listed on the site, in a format similar to Kickstarter, but rather than funding a website or documentary, you can fund a shelter for domestic violence survivors, a healing center for refugees of war, or education opportunities for sex trafficking victims. Options are available to purchase gift cards so your loved ones can “shop” for a cause and choose which humanitarian effort they would like to see succeed.

Women for Women International sponsors survivors of war through their period of recovery and rebuilding their lives. Sponsorships provide  job-skills training, business and money management basics and rights awareness education. This Christmas, you can gift a year long sponsorship to a family or individual on your list, or you can shop for supplies and materials that will be used by the women in the program to become economically stable.

At home, not just abroad

It is not just in the developing world that people struggle economically and to provide for themselves and their families’ basic needs. This holiday season, you can do your part to strengthen your local and national economy, by shopping local, American-made (if you live in the U.S.A.) with small businesses, work at home crafters and artisans.

Etsy is likely the best known place to shop for hand-made artisans goods where you know that you are supporting independent entrepreneurs in sustaining themselves economically. There is also the shop local feature where you can find crafters local to you for your Christmas shopping. By shopping with Etsy crafters, you will not be sending your money to large corporations or overseas, unless you are shopping with one of the many overseas crafters, and even then you know that your money is going to an individual. Etsy is also the  host of Talents of Sisters and the many shops that have reserved items for Talents of Sisters.

ArtFire is another site for crafters and entrepreneurs. They are growing in popularity and selection and definitely worth checking out.

Ebay remains a viable option to shop local and to support small business owners. And really, who doesn’t like to win their purchases instead of just buy them?

I hope this is a helpful guide in finding some new and socially responsible options for Holiday shopping and gift giving. If there are stores and websites, or individual sellers that you especially enjoy that match these categories, please share in the comments. There are so many wonderful products out there that you can feel good giving and we’ll all benefit from learning from each other.