5 Indigenous Stories to Watch Over Thanksgiving Break
Most people might associate Thanksgiving with turkey feasts, family gatherings, and football, but the origin of the holiday is steeped in some controversial history. Like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving has become a tradition that celebrates certain aspects of American history while ignoring a painful part of it: the violence and genocide that was committed against Native Americans. If you’d rather use the holiday to recognize and honor Indigenous communities who have been forgotten or rewritten by history, we’ve rounded up five titles that spotlight Indigenous stories from all over the world, from the people of Canada’s First Nations to spiritual shamans in Colombia. We hear perspective is the best side dish for Thanksgiving.
Life on the Oregon Trail was anything but easy (remember the Donner Party?), especially when you’re surrounded by people you’re not sure you can trust. Starring Michelle Williams as a hardy pioneer woman, “Meek’s Cutoff” follows a wagon train of settlers making their way to a better life. They hire a guide named Stephen Meek who claims he knows a shortcut through the Cascade Mountains. When things don’t go according to his plan, they come across a Native American man who offers to guide them back on course, sparking radical divisions in trust among the settlers. Will their deep-seated prejudice save them or lead them to their demise?
Shot in beautiful black and white, “Embrace of the Serpent” follows two journeys, 30 years apart, by Karamakate, an indigineous Amazonian shaman who is the last of his tribe. On the first journey, he accompanies a German ethnographer and in the second, he travels with an American botanist. Both men are searching for a sacred plant called yakruna, which is believed to have powerful healing properties. But can Karamakate trust these men? And do they deserve the healing powers of such a sacred plant? The film explores friendship, betrayal, colonialism, and its lush visual style is textured by a mesmerizing scene showcasing the magic of the yakruna.
As part of the 12-part docuseries “Eating” that examines the many different ways in which humans eat, “Off the Land” depicts how the Native communities of remote Alaska put food on their tables. The episode follows Paul, who regularly hunts and fishes for his food. We see him casting nets into the frozen water and shooting down a mallard that he grills over an open-fire. For Paul and the Native communities, subsistence hunting and fishing isn’t just a way to survive, but also a spiritual tradition passed down from generations. “It’s a simple way of living,” he says. “But it’s our way of living.”
In this hypnotic short, archival footage is rapidly woven together to show the stark juxtaposition between two very different existences for the indigenous people of Canada’s First Nations. The film starts by showing them building their own houses and living freely off the land, then abruptly transitions into their new lives perched atop New York City’s skyscrapers. Set to a fast-paced soundtrack of Inuit throat-singing cut with electronic synths, viewers get the sense that something ominous is imminent and by the time you’re transported into the heart of Manhattan, you can’t help but feel like something has been lost.
As part of his cross-country American road trip, British chef Jamie Oliver makes a stop in Arizona, where he’s eager to taste the food of the first Americans. He visits the Navajo Nation reservation to taste traditional dishes, some of which are on the brink of extinction, like sumac soup, blue corn pancakes, and soups made with cedar ash. Besides sampling the local cuisine, Oliver learns to live like a real Navajo. He sleeps next to a fire in a hogan, smokes a cob pipe as a spiritual blessing, and learns the symbolic and practical significance of sheep—then learns how to butcher one, the Navajo way.