An Indigenous Chef Examines Her Relationship With Thanksgiving

Life Writer

Tashia Hart/iStockphoto

Tashia Hart doesn’t take shit for granted. The world she lives in will never allow her that luxury. Hart grew up on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, part of the Anishinaabe people who populate the lands stretching west, north, and south from the Great Lakes region. Her early life played out like a tale that most Indigenous Americans know all too well: poverty, identity crises, abuses, and silence.

Hart fought hard to break free of the doldrums of reservation life and find her own path through food, nature, and art. She went to college and studied food via biology, which eventually led to a career as a Culinary Ethnobotanist. Her job is to study, celebrate, and elevate wild and foraged foods from her homelands, acting in concert with people like The Sioux Chef and i-Collective. In the process, Hart has become an integral part of a movement of chefs, thinkers, artists, and writers who are taking purchase back of their culture, foodways, and identity in 2018 America.

To that end, we thought we’d sit down with Hart for a second time, to talk about the intricacies and divisive nature of a holiday that we’re taught “celebrates” the unity of colonial and Indigenous people. In doing so, we were able to investigate the depth to which Indigenous people have to split their personalities to survive in America to this day.

Before we dive in, let’s get a little context. A lot of Indigenous people do not and, likely, will never celebrate Thanksgiving. In their eyes, doing so would be celebrating their people’s demise at the hands of massacring Christian fundamentalists who pursued wealth above all else. For Indigenous Americans, it doesn’t end in the 1600s. The power that this holiday holds carries on throughout history.

Perhaps ironically, it was Abraham Lincoln who enshrined Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863. That came less than a year after Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in U.S. history of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, Minnesota. It was also less than a year before Lincoln ethnically cleansed the Navajo from Arizona in the Long Walk which ended up enslaving many Navajo and killing nearly 90 percent of the adult population. So, yes, Thanksgiving is a beguiling holiday in Indigenous America for a litany of reasons. And Tashia Hart is here to explore that.

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Please welcome our newest collective sister Tashia Hart, who is from the Red Lake Band of Anishinaabe, Ajijaak doodem. (Crane clan). My passion for Indigenous foods began as I learned about the importance and life cycles of plants and animals through daily life growing up on the reservation, watching and helping relatives find, harvest, and care for wild rice, berries, tea, fish, grouse, deer, and other wild foods. I studied plants while attending Bemidji State University, Bemidji, MN, where I earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 2012, and shortly after joined my grandfather in the Red Lake Traditional Foods Program where we started and cared for community gardens, identified wild food sources, and created food habit surveys to get a better understanding of what our community members were eating and what their relationships with food were. In 2016 I started working with the Tatanka Truck and The Sioux Chef Catering Co. in Minneapolis, MN. In June 2017 I moved to Duluth, MN where I continue to research wild foods, as well as create art and currently (among other things, see below) I’m writing an adventure/mystical realism middle grade/YA novel that teaches about Anishinaabe culture and food systems in Minnesota. For me, ‘Indigenous Foods’ is seamlessly woven into the lifeways of the people I love and into my own worldview. They are the physical link between people and all of our relatives, and the spirit world. They fill stories, spaces in our homes, and fill our environment, our dreams and visions. To read more about Tashia click on the link on our bio.

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Thanksgiving is more often than not fraught for Indigenous people in America. Some would argue it’s entirely unavoidable. What is this holiday to you?

This time of year means many things to me, on many levels. I humbly ask the reader to take a moment and follow me into my world, on my terms, where I will explain about some of the “unavoidables” that I deal with on a daily basis.

To create some context for how I feel during this time, I’d like to start at the literal, physical base upon which everything in this country is built — the land that my people, the Anishinaabeg, call Turtle Island aka North America. Now, America got its name from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. Just one guy. That’s it. One guy did some explaining back in the old country about ten years after Columbus arrived and started fucking shit up. This one guy is said to have figured it out that the “newly discovered” continents couldn’t have been Asia. One guy supposedly convinced people that they were “new,” and two whole continents were thereafter referred to as his place.

How do you see that in the reality of your everyday life now?

There’s a deeply embedded concept of ownership of “accurate” or “legal” or “right” or “proper” terminology in the mainstream American culture that is unavoidable, imposed, and oftentimes at odds with traditional concepts and verbiage to describe what this land base is: Where it literally came from, what our relationship is to it, and what our responsibilities are as humans living in the presence of [the land]. The hundreds of tribes that exist today on Turtle Island have their own worldview, creation stories, perceptions pertaining to and documenting the passing of time, etc., etc. Yet every day, every day, they’re asked to put their own paradigms aside to placate to the colonizing framework in order for them to simply get by in this ancient cultural landscape that has been Americanized.

This is a trying time for many of us. It’s hard some days more than others to maintain my focus and my identity surrounded by all of these ideas that insist I assimilate the ways of my mind into the mainstream framework. Every day of my life I must internally deal with term after term, ideology upon ideology, insistence upon insistence. That this is America. That this is November. That this is the 2018th year after the earliest years of Christ is how I should lineate my perception and documentation of time. That this day is Thanksgiving.

There are plenty more “unavoidables” than these, but to try and list them all would drive me mad.

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