Voices in Education

Unlearning Thanksgiving: Centering Indigenous Youth Voice | Part 2

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In recognition of November being Native American Heritage month, PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs gathered perspectives from Native American students on what Thanksgiving means to them, and the importance of educating others about Native American heritage. 

Edward J. Falcon Jr. is from Belcourt, North Dakota on the land of the Turtle Mountain Band of Anishinaabe, and works as a youth engagement specialist in Anchorage, Alaska on the land of Dena'ina, Ełnena, and Dënéndeh peoples. 

He responded to written questions about the importance of changing false narratives about Native Americans and learning about Native heritage, as well as what celebrating Thanksgiving means for his family. 

The meaning of being Native American

If I were to describe what being Native American means to me in one word, it would be empowered.

The significance of Native American Heritage month

As of now, I do believe that having a specific month dedicated to Native Americans is important. It’s important that people in our country learn about us as a people and about our unique and different cultures that define us. Until there comes a day when the history, teachings, and lifestyles of Native Americans and all of the other cultures that contribute to our country are learned, understood, and ingrained into the minds of every American, I think that there should be a month dedicated to the importance of learning them.

Rich cultural history and traditions

One thing that I would like for people to know about my tribe is how genuinely unique it is when it comes to culture. Of course, our ancestral culture of my Anishinaabe ancestors and Midewiwin in which they practiced and followed is still in abundance on our land. However, our Michif culture is also so amazing. Within that last few hundred years, a new culture emerged as two peoples intermarried and had children. Michif is a mixed culture and in turn has a mixed language whereas French and Anishinaabe & Cree words are intermixed. I’m grateful to be of two amazing and powerful peoples and to be able carry on their languages and traditions.

False perceptions of Native Americans 

What comes to mind for me is the word protestor. Very often, whenever there are movements of Native Americans to showcase or even exercise their sovereignty, the media portrays them as protestors, and in turn projects protestors to be the enemy. This causes a negative stigma against Native Americans and even other people who practise their rights to exercise their freedoms. The country today thinks of protestors in such a negative light. Some Americans forget that it’s the people who have exercised their rights (or sovereignty) to confer their dismay or anger of the way things are that are the only ones who have ever managed to achieve even a semblance of positive change. 

Educating others 

The many ways I have been able to correct people’s false perceptions of me are as follows: educating them, encouraging them to educate themselves, providing facts and websites to look up, and offering my perspective.

If you really knew me, you would know that…

It is my passion and duty to serve the youth of Native communities, give pride to my people, and instill awareness to others.

Celebrating Thanksgiving 

I’ve always been grateful for the food and the time with the entire family. However, nobody in my family celebrates Thanksgiving as an American holiday. It’s a time for us to get together and share stories, cook our traditional foods, and be grateful for the resilience of our ancestors for bringing us here today. 

Redefining the holiday

I believe people can still celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday in order to come together and spend meaningful time together in order to make quality and lasting memories. However, I think it’s important for people to take the time to educate themselves and change the narrative of Thanksgiving by taking the power away from the colonial aspect of the holiday and placing that power into family values.

The header art is by Apay’uq Moore, Yup’ik artist from Bristol Bay.

​Eddy Falcon (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)

​Eddy Falcon (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) 2020 Human Trafficking Leadership Academy Fellow and a long time Generation Indigenous Ambassador Instagram: eddy.james99

Eddy is a 2020 Human Trafficking Leadership Academy Fellow and a long time Generation Indigenous Ambassador. Growing up on his Tribe's reservation in Belcourt North Dakota, he was active member of the Turtle Mountain Youth Council. Eddy participated in our Narrative Change Design Lab with IllumiNative and was featured on our Tele-Native Youth: Music is Medicine bi-weekly webinar series. Eddy relocated to Anchorage AK earlier this year where he now serves as the Youth Engagement Specialist at the Covenant House Alaska. This new position allows him to connect with Alaska Native youth and help each young person move on with their lives in positive ways with counseling, education, stable employment and secure housing.

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