As you wake up tomorrow morning bleary eyed in your pajamas, excitedly turning on the television to watch the 97th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you may notice something different. There are no pilgrims. That's thanks to the work of playwright Larissa FastHorse, whose play The Thanksgiving Play was on Broadway last season, making FastHorse the first known Native American female playwright on the Main Stem.
Since 2020, FastHorse and artist Ty Defoe (as part of their company Indigenous Directions) have collaborated with Macy's to make the event more respectful for the Native American communities. You can spot their contributions in Tom Turkey, the float that traditionally opens the parade. He used to be dressed like a pilgrim with children dressed as pilgrims sitting on him. As FastHorse recently told NPR, "Things like the pilgrims are really difficult topics and subjects for folks that were on this coast and had their people almost entirely wiped out by those people, whether intentionally or unintentionally." These days, Tom wears a black top hat and a bow tie, the perfect garment for going to the theatre. He is now surrounded by showgirls and cheerleaders.
FastHorse's work didn't end there. The Parade also began to include a land acknowledgement, because Manhattan is the traditional land of the Lenape people. And last year, the parade also included its first ever float created by Native Americans, called People of First Light (which is another name for the Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts). Sitting on the large pine-tree-shaped float were elders from the Wampanoag tribes. The float is set to return to the 2023 parade, which coincides with Native American Heritage Month and is the day before Native American Heritage Day.
As FastHorse explains, "[The Wampanoag are] the folks that this [Thanksgiving] mythology was created around. And so Macy's really smartly said, 'Hey, we want to work with them directly.' And they created this beautiful float that premiered last year. And again this year, we'll have people from that nation riding on it. And we're really proud of that and excited. And it's going to now be a permanent part, so that way that voice will always be a part of the parade."
Earlier this year, FastHorse's Thanksgiving Play made waves on Broadway for how it lampooned the traditional holiday, showing audiences that this mythology of Thanksgiving was created with no consultation with Native Americans. The play goes on to shine a spotlight on how Native Americans are also not traditionally included in many seemingly progressive attempts to correct this narrative, too.
This season, FastHorse is also undoing another English myth: Peter Pan. She is currently revising the book for the Peter Pan musical, which will being performances in December in Minnesota before going on a national tour. FastHorse also discussed that project with NPR, saying she took issue with the Native Americans being in Neverland in the first place, which is filled with people who (ostensibly) don't exist in the real world. "We're real people," she explains. "It doesn't make sense for us to be in the same realm as what's treated as magical creatures."
So in this new Peter Pan, Tiger Lily is now the leader of "this tribe of people, but each of those people is the last of an extinct culture somewhere in the world. So they come [to Neverland] because they can—they never grow old. So they can preserve their culture in a place where they're safe and hope that one day they can return to this world and bring their culture with them."