Indigenous community meal invites reflection on Thanksgiving

The NASO and Campus Kitchen sponsored-event provided food and food for thought


Washington and Lee community members shared an Indigenous meal Nov. 14. Photo by Virginia Laurie, ’22.

Virginia Laurie

On Nov. 14, faculty and students gathered in Evans dining hall for “An Indigenous Community Meal” hosted by the Native American Student Organization (NASO), the Bonner Program and Campus Kitchen.

The dinner followed a series of fall term Campus Kitchen programming entitled “Just Food: Land Access, Redlining, and Food Sovereignty,” which explores “issues of indigenous foodways and culture revitalization, land theft and USDA discrimination, and governmental intervention.”

This meal examined Native American cultural impoverishment at the hands of white settlers, the dark flipside of Thanksgiving historical narratives. Through gourmet, Indigenous-inspired recipes and written questions for each table, the meal brought community members together to enjoy food while reflecting on the season’s greater implications. 

Attendees, who sat in groups of six to seven, were served several small courses, including acorn and butternut squash soup, salmon over grains and a dessert topped with pine nuts and caramel.

While eating, guests were invited to engage one another with sets of questions, asking them to share reflections on their personal Thanksgiving history, understanding of salient Native issues and ways in which they’ve tried to disrupt harmful historical narratives.

Marisa Charley, director of the Bonner Program and instructor of poverty studies, thought the event perfectly reflected the goals of Bonner and The Shepherd Program more broadly. 

“From the perspective of our goal of fostering more healthy, peaceful, beautiful communities, there is so much work to be done around interrupting unjust narratives,” Charley said. “One of the most enduring narratives of harm in the U.S. today is around colonization, and the opportunity to dive into that with intention, open hearts, and ultimately reverence for those most affected by this harm was a profound learning experience.”

Ashley Shugart, ’22, thought the food was amazing and spoke to the difficulty of some of the reflection questions.

“I think the most challenging question for me was evaluating myself and how I may perpetuate false narratives of Thanksgiving,” Shugart said.

“I think a common thread through many of the discussions at our table was around just how deeply entrenched we are in these harmful narratives, and the role that the public education system has perpetuated,” Charley said. “That said, I was heartened by the ways our conversation shifted towards the incremental shifts we planned to make in our own family gatherings this year.”

Overall, Charley, Shugart and all the attendees rose to the challenge.

“My favorite part of the meal was how intentional the conversation was! I loved that there were questions and prompts already written that provoked thoughtful conversation,” Shugart said. “I think that this improved on other events I’ve been to because it was a great blend of intentional conversation that still felt relaxed and comfortable.”

“The event was accessible, enjoyable, and deeply important to shifting the ways we understand and talk about Thanksgiving, and colonization in general,” Charley said. “The intimacy of dining together is certainly a special place to do this work, and I hope we can find ways as a community to create more opportunities like this.”