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Native American Activist Discusses Thanksgiving and Social Justice

Fox Tree leads students in an indigenous song. Photo credit: Emery Veilleux ’20.

Native American activist Claudia A. Fox Tree offered Emmanuel students her perspective on Thanksgiving and the commonly held misconceptions of indigenous people. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion sponsored event took place in ADM 155 to kick off Native American History Month.

EC hosted a lot of events on Monday November 13, and some students encouraged their peers to attend this discussion rather than focusing their attention on another.

Fox Tree began the lecture with information of authentic Native American history.  She pointed to the problem with Thanksgiving’s false association of a peaceful gathering between Native American people and the European pilgrims. Realistically, indigenous peoples had been celebrating and giving thanks for centuries prior to European settlement.

The stereotypes from these false narratives endure in modern-day popular culture.  Fox Tree discussed images of Native Americans appearing on butter labels and Disney’s animated Peter Pan film.  One can also see the inauthentic and offensive portrayal of Native Americans in a Victoria’s Secret model adorning a headdress, a garment only male warriors wear in the Indigenous culture.

Popular culture regularly appropriates Native American cultures. Tribal leaders like Pontiac and Sequoyah are appropriated into car names and tree names and without acknowledging their historical meaning.

Fox Tree equated the phrase “Red Skin” with the N-word, and “redface” with “blackface”. She found the use of the phrase for a football team’s name particularly alarming.  She also spoke about the consequences of stereotypes.  The prevalence of such inaccurate portrayals can negatively influence an individual’s identity, particularly how one views his or her place in society.

Photo credit: Emery Veilleux ’20.

“We’re not teaching enough about native history,” said Fox Tree. “[In popular culture,] It’s okay to pretend to be Indian, but it’s not okay to be Indian.”

People often appropriate and disrespect native cultures because they are not given proper weight in historical discourse. Many students are unaware of the devastating genocide of Native Americans. On the Trail of Tears, 4,000 indigenous peoples marched 4,000 miles and every fourth person died. The term “Final Solution” was originally coined in relation to eradicating the “Indian problem.”

“Why would you joke about that kind of thing? That’s like putting up a sign at a sports game at a Jewish school and saying, ‘Get ready to go to the concentration camp’. It’s incredibly offensive,” Fox Tree said.

In order to promote social justice, Fox Tree encouraged students, “Check your language, step outside your comfort zone, educate others when they stereotype, and be an ally, activist, and agitator.”

Fox Tree ended the discussion with a Native American song called “Mother Earth.”  She invited students to sing along with the beat of the drum, and shake small, egg-shaped maracas.

Haley Biermann ’19 is the Managing Editor and Emery Veilleux ’18 is the Assistant Managing Editor of The Hub.  They can be contacted at and

Posted by on November 14, 2017. Filed under Around Campus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Native American Activist Discusses Thanksgiving and Social Justice

  1. Sye

    November 15, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Was there a PowerPoint or anything else I can use to teach my middle school students?