Missoula Food Bank & Community Center’s November Appeal Letter  invited our community to learn more about historic events of violence and oppression against Native people and nations, specifically those events that are rooted in the national holiday, “Thanksgiving”.

Crystal White Shield, Director of Community Organizing and Equity has provided the following research and resources, as well as sharing a deeply personal account of why it is so important to our goals of equity to re-examine our relationship with the November holiday. 

TRIGGER WARNING:  There are historic events described in this blog that are violent and inhumane. Graphic language is used with intention of acknowledging real events that have resulted in inter-generational trauma for Native and First Nations People; events that continue to impact our Native communities today. Many of the stories herein will be new to most; it is white privilege that has allowed for many of us to have grown to adulthood without ever having to confront these regrettable and horrifying events.  The connection to systemic oppression and food security is direct. We hope that through an understanding of historic events, our majority-white community can become better allies in the healing Crystal describes herein.

As we approach the holiday season, while navigating through the uncertainty of times, we are doing so with hope and gratitude. We, at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center, are also approaching the holiday season with a different kind of intention.

You may have noticed that our food bank has distanced itself from “Thanksgiving” specific language.  Let me tell you why that is.

While we strongly believe in the values of gratitude, family, and coming together over a traditional meal to celebrate and reflect on the things we hold close – we also strongly believe that our Native American/Indigenous community matters and that the roots of the November holiday are in conflict with that value.  We are not asking anyone to celebrate differently.  What we are asking is that we reflect on the history that surrounds the November holiday.

Currently, we have fairytale-like stories of pilgrims coming across the ocean aboard the “Mayflower”, settling in Plymouth Rock. We were told in school that Indians and pilgrims happily shared a peaceful meal together, calling it “Thanksgiving”. This is a story that is falsely taught to US citizens, as the real history behind the story is intentionally not told in our US History books.

The First Thanksgiving

In 1637, the Pequot people were gathered for their tribe’s annual Green Corn Festival, a celebration of harvest that was later appropriated by Thanksgiving.  Dutch and English mercenaries surrounded the camp of the Pequot people in the early morning hours before the festival, and 700 Pequot men, women, and children were killed. This date would come to be known as “The First Thanksgiving” by many Indigenous people. Events that led to this mass killing included an armed conflict between the Pequot tribe and an alliance of colonists from the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes. Survivors of the massacre were taken into captivity with hundreds of prisoners sold into slavery to colonists in Bermuda and the West Indies, while others were taken as captives by nearing tribes. Some became house slaves to colonists in New England.

https://pequotwar.org/about/ The Pequot War by Battlefields of the Pequot War: Informing the Public about the Pequot War and the preservation of the battlefields

https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/15002 “The Truth about Thanksgiving is that the debunkers are wrong” by Jeremy Bangs at Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Thanksgiving as a National Holiday

The first “Thanksgiving” proclaimed by a US president, was by President George Washington, our first US President, declaring November 26, 1789, a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/thanksgiving-proclamation-of-1789/  This proclamation was made on October 3, 1789. Many more US Presidents have made Thanksgiving proclamations, which can be found here: https://www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/thanksgiving-day-proclamations-1789-present

In our US history, Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th President of the United States from 1861-1865.  During his time as President, he was praised for his lead in the 13th amendment that abolished the enslavement of people in our country on December 6, 1865; in the same space, he declared a holiday attempting to unify the Country that is rooted in violence and oppression. President Abraham Lincoln established the final Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863, which founded the day where US citizens recognize a day of “Thanksgiving” as a National Holiday during the last Thursday of the month of November.

Almost a year prior, on December 26, 1862, President Lincoln approved the mass public execution of 38 Yankton Dakota men that were hanged in public in Mankato, MN, after very short trials of 498 Dakota men accused of raiding settler towns. Trials were no longer than five minutes each, with very little evidence, no attorneys to represent each of the accused, and the process inherently unjust due to the language barrier between the Dakota men and the military personnel in charge of these trials. This was the largest penal mass execution in United States History ordered by a US President.

The Indian Wars

While the United States was focused primarily on the American Civil War during the time Lincoln was in office, ignored in our Nation’s history was the extermination of many Native American people from various tribes that were carried out by the US Military as wars and massacres under President Lincoln’s direction. During the time of the American Civil War, “Indian Wars” and massacres had transpired, killing many Native People, with survivors becoming prisoners who succumbed to their death by either illness or starvation while imprisoned in US Military concentration camps. These wars and massacres would include the following:

  • Dakota War (Sioux Uprising) of 1862 – December 26, 1862
    • Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake – July 26, 1863
    • Battle of Stony Lake – July 28, 1863
    • Battle of Whitestone Hill – September 3, 1863
    • Battle of Killdeer Mountain – July 26, 1864
  • Colorado Wars
    • Sand Creek Massacre – November 29, 1864
    • Battle of Julesburg – January 7, 1865
    • Battle at Platte Ridge – July 26, 1865
  • Chiricahua (Apache) Wars
    • Siege of Tubac – August 1961
    • Battle of Cookes Canyon – Mid August 1861
    • Battle of Florida Mountains – Mid August 1861
    • Battle of Pinos Altos – September 27, 1861
    • Battle of Dragoon Springs – May 5, 1862
    • Battle of Apache Pass – July 15-16, 1862
    • First Battle of Adobe Walls – November 25, 1864
  • Powder River War This was to support settlers to proceed to move westward. – July 1 to October 4, 1865
  • Long Walk of the Navajo (Bosque Redondo) – Beginning August 1864 as a part of the Civil War
  • Bear River Massacre (Battle of Bear River)– January 29, 1863
  • Snake War – Beginning 1864 (Oregon, Nevada, California, and Idaho)
  • Goshute War – 1860-1863: President Lincoln signed treaty with tribe on January 17, 1865

I am a direct descendant of the Sand Creek Massacre. This tragedy happened right around the time of “Thanksgiving”. The date, November 29, 1864, is forever etched into our people’s minds, hearts and spirits.  It was the same year that Montana was declared a Territory of the United States of America.

I am an enrolled Cheyenne – Arapaho tribal member, where I am descendant on my dad’s side (Southern Cheyenne) and my mom’s side (Southern Arapaho). During the November holiday, we think about our ancestors who survived and made us who we are today. We also recognize that we had ancestors who perished in this atrocity.

The Sand Creek Massacre was a US Military raid of my peoples’ village. They brutally killed elders, women, and children. Bodies were raped and mutilated. Soldiers cut body parts off my ancestors and paraded them through Denver, CO, as trophies. Many people cheered as these soldiers were deemed “heroes” for their efforts. Body parts of my ancestors were then celebrated and showcased at the Apollo Theatre in Denver.

Both bands of Cheyenne, from Montana and Oklahoma, and both bands of Arapaho, from Wyoming and Oklahoma, gather every year to remember, pray, pay our respects, cry, and sing for our ancestors that died that tragic day at Sand Creek. Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members, young and old, run from the Sand Creek massacre site to the Colorado state capitol building in downtown Denver, CO. I, personally, got to run for my ancestors last year, 2019. I shed tears as we sang, praised, and ran each mile of the way.

With all of our Nation’s history, “Thanksgiving” is a holiday rooted in the genocide of Native American and Indigenous people of North America.

I don’t want to deter non-Native families away from spending valuable time with extended families; my intention is to bring awareness to the excluded, real history of our Nation’s First Peoples, as it celebrates the November Holiday. Native American people will engage in the US Traditional “Thanksgiving” meal and partake in fellowship, however, it does not go without saying prayers for our Native people, and the atrocities and intergenerational trauma that has greatly affected our families. As Native First Nations people, we continue to offer prayers and burn smudge (i.e. cedar, sage, sweetgrass, etc.) as our Nation heals from all of the events that has caused damage to all people of our country. This November holiday, as Native, First Nations people, we celebrate our strength and resilience. We are STILL HERE.

Missoula Food Bank & Community Center’s annual turkey distribution will take place on Sunday, November 22nd from 10am-6pm at MFB&CC.  We anticipate serving 2,400 families.


Untold No More – Native Advocacy:

https://www.historynet.com/the-1862-sioux-uprising.htm The 1862 Sioux Uprising – HistoryNet by Jeffry D. Wert

https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/the-traumatic-true-history-and-name-list-of-the-dakota-38-3awsx1BAdU2v_KWM81RomQ The Traumatic True History and Name List of the Dakota 38 – Indian Country Today by Vincent Schilling

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/28/us/dakota-38-anniversary-trnd/index.html This week is the somber anniversary of the largest mass execution in the US – Lean Asmelash, CNN

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/horrific-sand-creek-massacre-will-be-forgotten-no-more-180953403/  The Horrific Sand Creak Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More – Tony Horwitz, Smithsonian Magazine

https://www.nps.gov/sand/learn/historyculture/index.htm Sand Creek Massacre: National Historical Site Colorado, “History & Culture” – National Park Service

https://www.legendsofamerica.com/colorado-indian-battles/ Legends of American: Colorado Indian Battles

https://www.nps.gov/chir/learn/historyculture/apache-wars-cochise.htm The Apache Wars Part I: Cochise – Chiricahua National Monument Arizona/National Park Service

https://www.nps.gov/chir/learn/historyculture/apache-wars-geronimo.htm The Apache Wars Part II: Geronimo – Chiricahua National Monument Arizona/National Park Service

https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/indian/showdown/page2.html Native American Relations in Texas – The Battle of Adobe Walls

https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/connors-powder-river-expedition-1865 Connor’s Powder River Expedition of 1865 – Ellis Hein, WyoHistory

https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/navajo/long-walk/long-walk.cshtml The Long Walk – Native Knowledge 360

http://genealogytrails.com/ida/idahostate/military/military_snake_war.html THE SNAKE WAR, 1864 – 1868 – Idaho Genealogy Trails

https://www.kuer.org/indian-country/2019-01-31/forgotten-shoshone-massacre-story-will-soon-be-told-on-grand-scale Forgotten Shoshone Massacre Story Will Soon Be Told On Grand Scale – Daysha Eaton, KUER 90.1

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