The Ohio State community gathered to celebrate “Alternative Thanksgiving” in honor of Native American History Month Nov. 5. Photo credit: Joe Schmittgen | Lantern reporter

Thanksgiving is often characterized by turkeys and stuffing, but Tuesday evening, Ohio State students and members of the greater Columbus community came together in the Ohio Union Performance Hall to celebrate Thanksgiving in a different way. 

In honor of Native American History Month, the Multicultural Center hosted “Alternative Thanksgiving,” an evening of traditional dance, food and sharing, so Native American students could celebrate with the Ohio State community as they would within their communities. Other students also had the opportunity to learn more about Native American culture and history, Melissa Beard Jacob, intercultural specialist for native and indigenous students in the Multicultural Center, said.

“It’s kind of a good way to educate folks on an alternative way to think about Thanksgiving,” Jacob said. “Kind of away from the narrative of pilgrims and Indians and thinking about it from an indigenous perspective.”

The event began with a few announcements, and then jumped into energetic dance performances by Native American dancers Lydia Green, of the Ojibwe tribe in Northern Michigan, and Wolfgrass Irwin, of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation in North Dakota. 

The two danced together for the first piece, but later broke off into separate solo pieces that further displayed their different styles as well as the specific dress that is traditionally worn during the dances.

“This is my fancy shawl outfit,” Green said of her attire. “It is made to look flashy and bright like a butterfly. When I started dancing, my arms were closed in as if I were in a cocoon, and I spun out and got my wings out.”

Irwin said he is a grass-dancer, which means the goal of his movements is to imitate wind along the prairie grass. 

“In the Sneak Up [dance], you’ll see I stay real low to the ground, and the beat kind of changes throughout the song,” he said. “It’s kind of a depiction of a battle, a war or type of physical conflict where warriors needed to be warriors.”

At the end of their performances, the dancers invited attendees to join hands for a group dance and audience members danced along to the beat and snaked throughout the Performance Hall.  

“I thought the performances were really powerful,” Amna Rustom, a third-year in communication, said. “It’s an experience I’d never had before, so I’m really grateful to have been able to see it.” 

Following the performances were speeches by Native American students Deandre Smiles, a doctoral student in geography and president of the Ohio State Indigenous Community of Graduate and Professional Students, and Nicole Doran, a fourth-year in biology and president of the Native American and Indigenous Peoples Cohort.

Doran said the Ohio Native American and indigenous community suffers from a lack of exposure, and she grew up with minimal  knowledge of her own culture, so this event serves as an important opportunity to educate.  

“My speech is set up to give advice to future native students because we have a really big incoming class,” Doran said. “So they’d be really great to sort of continue on the legacy that we’ve all laid.” 

Doran offered guidance regarding the lack of Native American representation at Ohio State and what it is like to be an indigenous student.

The evening ended with an indigenous-inspired dinner, consisting of fry bread with wojapi — a blueberry jam — sassafras tea, venison stew and seared salmon in bourbon marinade with sukatche and wild rice. 

A vegetarian option was also offered and included corn chowder as well as savory stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, apples, cranberries, mushrooms and onions.

“I think the food aspect is also interesting,” John Bickers, a third-year in history and affiliate of the Miami tribe in Oklahoma, said. “Food is kind of a gathering thing for a lot of cultures, so for us to showcase that, I think that’s a really good thing.”

Jacob said the alternative Thanksgiving isn’t the only event the Multicultural Center puts on for Native American History Month. Events will continue throughout the coming weeks.