Native Americans give thanks at feast and pow-wow


“I feel like I am supposed to be anti-Thanksgiving just because it’s the p.c. thing to do in this time we live in,” says Minneapolis Native American Ona Knoxsah. “But I am not ashamed nor do I feel guilty to say that I love Turkey Day!

“To me, it’s all about the food. My family doesn’t generally give thanks; we just have a lovely dinner with each other followed by desserts and games and then a pow-wow at the Indian Center.”

So much for any assumption that being Indian necessitates holding a grudge every November against all things White. Juanita Blackhawk of Park Rapids acknowledges, “Thanksgiving is every day. I give thanks for another day to be able to see relatives and friends and to ask the Creator to watch over them. Thanksgiving Day — it’s just a day to be with family and friends and chow down on some good food.”

The Minneapolis American Indian Center (MAIC) in South Minneapolis has an event planned for the occasion. November 24- 26 the center hosts “Minneapolis Thanksgiving Feast/Pow Wow — Traditional.” While it’s officially a Thanksgiving holiday event, practically speaking it is more to celebrate community than anything else.

Vonda Cluck and Juanita Espinosa, who contribute time and energy to activities at MAIC, sit in a booth on the premises at The Wolves Den Café sharing their perspectives on what this time of year is about. As Espinosa explains, “It’s always a social gathering and a chance for people to get together, which is kind of what our pow-wows are for, is creating a social element.

“So we can visit, laugh, and try to kind of forget our sorrows, make new friends. Have experiences with each other that [help] us to grow in whatever way we’re looking at what’s ahead. Talk to people about problems that need to be solved.

“Any number of things can happen at a pow-wow. That’s the lovely part about a Thanksgiving one — it opens the doors to that.”

Espinosa points out that it’s also an opportunity to shed the isolation of everyday life. Getting away from apartment buildings where neighbors generally see each other only when passing through the halls or in and out of the building, here is the chance to mill about, intermingle and interact in accord with how life was lived in villages long before social progress changed things.

“With Native people, [this has always been] my worldview. The more opportunities we have to experience…our whole culture as we know it [the better]. From dancing to singing to talking Indian to sharing food to telling stories, those are things that help ground us. Those are what I enjoy about coming to a pow-wow and recognizing that my culture allows me that.

“Some places [people] go for gatherings and you have to be quiet — if you go to the theater, the church. This [pow-wow] is a social gathering that allows everyone to participate and be involved.”

Vonda Gluck is part of the planning committee for the pow-wow and has been on the annual committee the past seven years, after helping to plan pow-wows in Chicago for three decades. One aspect of the MAIC event Gluck stresses is that it is wholly indigenous.

At such outings, it goes without saying there will be authentic garb, traditional dance, songs. She points out that, down to products that will be sold such as jewelry, moccasins, arts and crafts, beadwork, leather, regalia supplies and more, “We want vendors to only sell Native American-made work. Not made in Japan, that sort of thing.

“This year we’re going to have demonstrations at booths,” says Gluck. Visitors to the pow-wow will be able to watch moccasins being sewn and jewelry being crafted. “Six to seven vendors coming, just doing their crafts.”

Ona Knoxsah adds an off-the cuff note: “I used to get upset when people would give the Pilgrims all respects for ‘founding’ Turkey Day. But, now, I don’t really care. The only thing that matters to me is eating me some good turkey bird!

“I do think that school children should learn about Indian history, the true stories! Not textbook lies! They always like to tie Native history in with Thanksgiving, and I think that should be a separate lesson plan during another month.

“I think we need to remove ourselves from that holiday. The further we are away from it, the better off [we are], because if we are protesting as anti-Thanksgiving or ‘Thankstaking,’ we are still giving the holiday power. Just the fact of talking about it and getting upset about it is lending power over us Natives.”

Knoxsah sums up, “I teach my children to be thankful every day. The things we are thankful for are as simple as having a house, having heat in the winter, food for dinner. No need to get all tangled up in that Thanksgiving holiday when it’s not even applicable.”

Admission is free for the November 24 noon feast with karaoke to follow. Grand entries: Thursday at 6 pm, Friday at 1 pm and 6 pm, and Saturday at 1 pm. Royalty competition for Little Miss Minneapolis, Miss Minneapolis, and Brave Minneapolis on Friday night.