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Native American Chicagoans Share What Thanksgiving Means To Them

CHICAGO (CBS) -- November is Native American Heritage Month. It falls within the same month as the holiday that many Native Americans describe as a painful one.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Marissa Parra shares what Thanksgiving means to Native American Chicagoans.

Norma Robertson sits at her table doing traditional Native American bead work, an array of colourful beads are scattered on her desk. She's fastidious, focused on her next project before gesturing to the zip cover in her hands.

"I learned this a long time ago," said the member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe.

Her handwork is precise, just like her grandma taught her.

"She said, 'You learn how to do this, and you'll never go hungry," Norma said.

Norma and Robert Wapahi spend time in their living room. Native. American traditional music plays in the background. Robert quietly sketches from feet away. His artwork depicting various Native American people from various tribal nations in various states and settings adorns the entire room.

This is how Norma and her partner spend their time. Crafting and creating is their way of honoring their native culture.

"His drawings are representative of us," she said.

Ahead of Thanksgiving, Robert Wapahi uses his pain as fuel for his art.

"All this holiday season that you call your 'season of happiness,' that isn't what it's been for us. Winter season has always been a season of sadness," said Robert, a member of the Santee Tribe.

Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time fo food and family, but for many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the loss of their land and their people in the centuries that following the Mayflower's arrival in New England.

WHen asked what they do on Thanksgiving, he said they ignore it.

Native Americans make up less than 3% of the entire city, which actually still makes Chicago the third largest urban native American population in the country.

"We have the Oneida Nation flag, Choctaws, Potawatomi," said Melodi Serna, executive director of the  as she pointed to flags around the center's auditorium. "Each one of these flags represents someone we serve or a member.

The American Indian Center has been fighting for recognition for Native American Chicagoans for years.

Illinois is one of the few states in the country that has neither federal nor state recognized Native American tribes, land or reservations.

"The lands that we are all on are native lands," said Melodi.

Melodi said her own journey surrounding Thanksgiving and next steps for Native American Chicagoans has evolved from one of anger to one of nuanced celebration of life.

"We don't celebrate Thanksgiving, per se. We celebrate giving thanks," she said. "The survival is what the beautiful story is. The fact that we're still here."


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