Thanksgiving in Context: Seeking out and Honoring Native American Roots

By Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid

“That is (the Bounty) whereof Allah gives Glad Tidings to His Servants who believe and do righteous deeds. Say: “No reward do I ask of you for this except the love of those near of kin.” And if any one earns any good, We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Ready to appreciate (service).” Al-Qur’an 42:23

Bismilahir Rahmanir Rahim

In approximately three weeks Americans of all ethnic and religious backgrounds will endeavor to gather around food with their friends and family and at the very least utilize the Thanksgiving holiday as a time for celebration and giving thanks. Thanksgiving is an arguably “American” tradition although it is also celebrated in Canada on the second Monday of October. Muslims are also included in this group although I have recently become aware of some fatwas about the prohibition of Muslim participation in such a celebration, but I digress.

This Thanksgiving, before you cut into that halal turkey, I implore you to think about this holiday in its historical context and your place and your family’s place in that context. As a Muslim person of Native American ancestry I think about our nation’s history with a heavy heart as persons from both sides of my lineage were and still are killed, systematically discriminated and oppressed. There is a scholarly debate underway about the extent to which Islam influenced indigenous people in the Americas, but what is not debated is that there were and are Native American Muslims from many tribes in the Americas. For African-descended Native Americans resources are comparably scarce, but still worth seeking out. Genealogical testing has become more streamline and affordable so you can hold factual proof of your lineage and not just wonder as you watch an episode of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots” or TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”

The concluding video features Angela Y. Walton-Raji explaining how you can use the Dawes Roll cards to search out the names of your Native American descendants. If you are not familiar with the Dawes Rolls they are the final rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. I have included a link from their archives below with complete instructions on how to start the process. If this stage seems too daunting for you I recommend easing into the process with a free 14-day trial of, where you can acquire the dates and names that will ease the research process. I know that research seems like a scary word and not seemingly fun, but as a family imagine how engaging the Thanksgiving table discussion will be when you can discuss what you learned about Great Grandfather and Great-Great Grandmother XYZ. And should you discover that your roots can be traced to one of the hundreds of tribes indigenous to America, own that history and preserve your ancestors’ memory, not just on Thanksgiving day, but everyday.

You may not find a Native American connection to your family. According to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “Only 5 percent of Black Americans have at least 12.5 percent Native American ancestry.” Either way, always remember that these indigenous Americans were and are our brothers and sisters in the very real struggle of living in America. Give thanks, praise Allah and may the blessings of Allah be showered upon you and your families as you gather in His name, Ash-Shakur.

Useful links and resources:
Afro Native Narratives at I Love Ancestry:

The African-Native American Genealogy Homepage:

The Dawes Rolls:

Five Things to Know about Blacks and Native Americans:

Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid is a part-time lecturer in the departments of Pan African Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville. Her research interests focus on the African American and Native American Islamic experiences (Slavery-Melungeons-20th Century Islamic Movements-Present Day) with emphasis on minority voices.

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