Cliff Matias, center, is cultural director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council

Cliff Matias of Redhawk Arts Council on Thanksgiving


New York-area PBS website MetroFocus spoke with Cliff Matias, cultural director of the Brooklyn-based Redhawk Native American Arts Council, about the Thanksgiving holiday. Redhawk is atri-state pan-indigenous arts council that incorporates over 75 tribes and nations from North and South America, the Caribbean and Polynesian islands.

Matias describes Thanksgiving as "a mixed message for Native peoples." People all over the world have harvest ceremonies, he says, but the American concept of a peaceful meal between Indians and Pilgrims is inaccurate and bitterly ironic given the often brutal history that followed Europeans' arrival on Turtle Island.

"In 1621, the Wampanoag brought about five deer, among other things and watched the Puritans drink and shoot muskets," Matias told "The Wampanoag wanted to adopt the Pilgrims and have them live as Wampanoag. Within 50 years, almost three-fourths of the Wampanoag were decimated through disease and the European style of warfare brought to their homeland."

Although Matias's group elects not to endorse Thanksgiving -- by, for instance, participating in the Thanksgiving Day Parade -- he points out that having mixed feelings about Thanksgiving does not make Natives unpatriotic. "Thanksgiving is an American holiday, not a native one, but we’re proud to be Americans," he says. "Indigenous people have the highest per capita percentage of people in the armed forces. We defend the land that our ancestors are buried under. This is still our homeland."

In addition to being Redhawk's cultural director, Matias is also a skilled dancer and a contributing photographer to Indian Country Today Media Network. To read the full interview and watch a clip of him dancing, visit Q&A: Native Americans’ Complicated Relationship to Thanksgiving.

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ahliss's picture
Submitted by ahliss on
I agree totally !!

ranjit's picture
Submitted by ranjit on
Truth is bitter, and inconvenient. It makes us think and change for better. Based on what I have learned about the Native Indian and European history Cliff's version is closer to truth, while the American textbook version is totally made up. Cliff's version makes you think about what the Europeans did wrong. There is a lesson for the reader to avoid being like the Europeans. Thanks giving to most is about getting together, having a lot of food and feeling good about saying a small prayer. If thanks giving required people to fast and observe it as a day of prayer and thanks, then it wouldn't have turned into the commercial holiday it is today. Native tribes may sometimes not have gotten along well, however their way of life in the past was exemplary in many aspects. They cared for the environment and took only what was needed. They lived healthy and mostly care free lives. Communities were tightly knit and wisdom was passed on by the elders to the new generation. I hope natives wake up and work on saving what is left of the wonderful culture. And please stay away from casinos. Easy money will for sure decimate you. I hope the non-natives wake up and learn more about the native Indian ways, and let them be.