Native American Pastor Talks of Celebrating Thanksgiving as a Youth

For some Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a time of mourning, for the meeting between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag began a series of events that led to many tribes being wiped out. But for one Native American pastor, the observance is not a source of historical mourning or regret, rather he celebrated the occasion since a youth growing up on a Virginia reservation.

Ernest Custalow, pastor at Grace Church of Fredericksburg, told The Christian Post that he recalled celebrating Thanksgiving as a child on the Mattiponi reservation. Part of this tradition involved providing a deer and a turkey to officially give to the governor of Virginia to pay their state taxes, a custom that remains to the modern day.

"The way we paid taxes was to kill a deer and turkey to give to the governor of Virginia. We still do that," said Custalow, adding that, "I grew up hunting for the governor."

"They would present it to the governor usually Tuesday … Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday before Thanksgiving."

Custalow added that while he did not attend these ceremonies, he boasted that he had killed a few of the deer that had been presented to the governor in past years.

While Custalow's experiences with Thanksgiving were positive and he said that he is "favorable" to the holiday, others among the diverse tribes in the United States hold a different opinion.

Since 1970, hundreds of Native Americans have assembled at noon on Thanksgiving Day at Cole's Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, to observe a "National Day of Mourning."

Writing for a publication of the National Museum of the American Indian, Liz Hill observed that for some modern Native Americans, Thanksgiving is not a time of festivity.

"On Thanksgiving Day, while most Native people are sitting down to turkey dinners, some prefer to observe the day as one of mourning," wrote Hill.  "[Mourning] for what happened to the millions of Indians who lived on the North and South American continents before the arrival of the Europeans."

When asked by CP about this sense of mourning over Thanksgiving, Pastor Custalow explained that he did not encounter such ideas growing up in Virginia. Custalow believed that there was a largely regional difference of opinion, telling CP that tribes farther out West tended to be more hostile towards the Thanksgiving observance and the historical implications.

Custalow reasoned that because East Coast tribes had been around white populations longer and thus their antagonisms were less intense than Plains Indians and West Coast Indians.

"Because we live on the East Coast [I've] never run into too many Indians who took exception to that, this Thanksgiving holiday," said Custalow.

"We always celebrated it on our reservation."

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