Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?

Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
The Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers, 2011. Salt Pond, Cape Cod National Seashore. Courtesy of the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers.

This essay by Dennis Zotigh was widely commented on when he wrote it for Thanksgiving 2011. Each year, we add readers' thoughts on the question, Do Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?


In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like.

The Thanksgiving myth has done so much damage and harm to the cultural self-esteem of generations of Indian people, including myself, by perpetuating negative and harmful images to both young Indian and non-Indian minds. There are so many things wrong with the happy celebration that takes place in elementary schools and its association to American Indian culture; compromised integrity, stereotyping, and cultural misappropriation are three examples.

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe
Jennie A. Brownscombe (1850–1936), The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914). Oil paint on canvas. Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum.

When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. These cultural misunderstandings and stereotypical images perpetuate historical inaccuracy.

Tolerance of mockery by teachers is a great concern to Native parents. Much harm has been done to generations of Indian people by perpetuating negative and harmful images in young minds. Presenting Thanksgiving to children as primarily a happy time trivializes our shared history and teaches a half-truth. And while I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.

Let’s begin with Squanto (aka Tisquantum), a Patuxet, one of more than 50 tribes who formed the Wampanoag Confederacy. Around 1614, when he was perhaps 30, Squanto was kidnapped along with others of his people and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to Malaga, Spain, where they were sold into slavery. Monks in Spain bought Squanto, shared their faith with him, and made it possible for him to find his way to England in 1615. In England he worked for shipbuilder John Slany and became proficient in English. In 1619 Squanto returned to his homeland by joining an exploring expedition along the New England coast. When he arrived at the village where he has been raised, all his family and the rest of his tribe had been exterminated by a devastating plague.

What about the Pilgrims? Separatists who fled from England to Holland seeking to escape religious persecution by English authorities, and who later booked passage to North America, are now called "Pilgrims," though Americans did not widely use the term until the 1870s. In November, 1620, the Mayflower dropped anchor in present-day Provincetown Harbor. After exploring the coast for a few weeks, the Pilgrims landed and began building a permanent settlement on the ruins of Squanto’s Patuxet village, now renamed New Plymouth. Within the first year, half of the 102 Pilgrims who set out from Europe on the Mayflower had perished. In desperation the Pilgrims initially survived by eating corn from abandoned fields, raiding villages for stored food and seed, and robbing graves at Corn Hill.

Squanto was introduced to the Pilgrims in the spring of 1621, became friends with them, and taught them how to hunt and fish in order to survive in New England. He taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn by using fish as fertilizer and how to plant gourds around the corn so that the vines could climb the cornstalks. Due to his knowledge of English, the Pilgrims made Squanto an interpreter and emissary between the English and Wampanoag Confederacy.

What really happened at the first Thanksgiving in 1621? The Pilgrims did not introduce the concept of thanksgiving; the New England tribes already had autumn harvest feasts of thanksgiving. To the original people of this continent, each day is a day of thanksgiving to the Creator.  In the fall of 1621, William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony, decided to have a Plymouth harvest feast of thanksgiving and invited Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Federation, to join the Pilgrims. Massasoit came with approximately 90 warriors and brought food to add to the feast, including venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash and maple syrup. Massasoit and the ninety warriors stayed in Plymouth for three days. These original Thanksgiving foods are far different from the meals prepared in modern Thanksgiving celebrations.

Squanto died in 1622, but Massasoit outlived the era of relative peace in colonial New England. On May 26, 1637, near the present-day Mystic River in Connecticut, while their warriors were away, an estimated 400 to 700 Pequot women, children, and old men were massacred and burned by combined forces of the Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Saybrook (Connecticut) colonies and Narragansett and Mohegan allies. Colonial authorities found justification to kill most of the Pequot men and enslave the captured women and their children. Pequot slaves were sent to Bermuda and the West Indies. In 1975 the official number of Pequot people living in Connecticut was 21. Similar declines in Native population took place throughout New England as an estimated three hundred thousand Indians died by violence, and even more were displaced, in New England over the next few decades.

Looking at this history raises a question: Why should Native peoples celebrate Thanksgiving? Many Natives particularly in the New England area remember this attempted genocide as a factual part of their history and are reminded each year during the modern Thanksgiving. The United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget.

I turn to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I received this year:

From Hydro, Oklahoma: Could we just start over and go forward? We can't change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta's great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.

Ecuador via Bozeman, Montana: It's important to share the whole, true story of the first Thanksgiving. Many of us were told a fairytale lie that led us to believe the same old story: Colonization was good for everyone and colonization was relatively peaceful (the violence was necessary, the ends justify the means). Now, a lot of us are learning more, and that comes from educating ourselves with the help from those who do know. I will say this, the generic idea of thanksgiving, or taking the time to be with family and friends and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives, the big and small, is a great practice and should happen more often. I wonder how we can turn a negative into a positive? Can we have an honest Thanksgiving? Can we move forward and, if so, where do we begin?

Santa Fe, New Mexico: My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the "Pilgrims" may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator's gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.

Fairfax, Oklahoma: Our folks and ancestors left a good road to follow and prayed for gifts or successes for us that they may not have achieved. We have opportunities even more than them in these days and days to come. Long time ago we sat down in thanksgiving and had a great day. That's what Thanksgiving is to me, to enjoy and continue to achieve for yourself and them. They are smiling when we achieve. Aho.

Sevierville, Tennessee: Yes, I celebrate Thanksgiving. I have a thankful heart and feel blessed, so I give thanks.

Lawton, Oklahoma, with gentle humor: Do we have to feed the Pilgrims? Again?

And here are a few people's thoughts in 2013: 

Aylett, Virginia: It is good to celebrate the concept of gratitude and thankfulness. When the holiday story is based on a lie that covers up the national moral atrocity of genocide, the statement about the people who celebrate is not good. Shining light on the truth will always bring about healing. 

Montville, Connecticut: Thanksgiving was celebrated for murder and slavery rather than friendship and harvest. 

Greenbelt, Maryland: I don't necessarily look at the holiday as pilgrims-meet-Indians-and-chow-down. I celebrate it as the time the cycle of alcoholism was broken in our family, and we have a feast to celebrate that. 

Norman, Oklahoma: It's pretty much a family reunion for me, and there is eating, visiting, being thankful, and having a good time. Because of that, there is no reason to worry about the history. Similar to the idea that our dances fall on the 4th of July and instead of celebrating independence, it is more like a homecoming to our Kiowa people. 

California: When I went to school there was two Indians in our class me and a hopi girl neither one of us had to endure any of this because her mother and my mother both raised hell with the principal no fake headbands or feathers for us. 

Pala, California: When my kids were in pre-school is when I decided I needed to represent our people at this time of year more than any other. I would be damned if my kids were gonna wear paper bags like the other students. I wasn't having that. I learned to get the story across at their age level and show them the beauty and generosity of our people. I remember growing up and my mom getn upset with me because on Thanksgiving day I would come to the dinner table in my PJs and hair unbrushed, knowing the day was not a celebration. But now that I'm a mother of 3 and a grandmother of 1, I understand as Native people we give thanks to the Creator every day. On Thanksgiving Day I'm just grateful our people are still here and still stand strong. 

Salt Lake City, Utah: Thanksgiving, to me, is to be grateful for all the good blessings that came my way. Good health. Gift of family. Regardless of history, there are still many Natives in the land, and that shows how resilient we are. To honor those who went before us, let us share our culture and stories, teach the youth to learn from the past and to make our lives so our ancestors are proud of us. Example is a great educator. 

Alberta, Canada: It is an opportunity for those who do take note . . . . There will be those who roll their eyes, and others who may gain deeper appreciation, to honor (maybe even emulate) a more giving nature . . . , that of their Creator. 

Crow Agency, Montana: My Dad used to say, "We give thanks everyday, so if they want to give us a holiday to give thanks, I'll take it." 

Unfortunately, I didn't include where people were writing from in the essay when it first appeared in 2011:

I was infuriated when my daughter’s school had a mock feast complete with paper mache headdresses and Pilgrim hats!

When they did that to my kids in elementary, I TORE those items up and signed my kids out of school for that day.

For Thanksgiving I was the Indian. Umm Go figure . . . .

Someone took a picture of me in front of the class, and to this day . . . it bothers me. Don't get the whole making a fest in school.   

Tonight I have to lead a children's Bible class, and they want me to theme it around Thanksgiving. I will, but it's not going to be about the happy pilgrims and all that stuff. Thankfulness to God is one thing, but elevating pilgrims to hero status is out of the question.  

When my daughter Victoria was in grade school she had a teacher give them the assignment to write a report on Thanksgiving dinner, and Victoria wrote hers as to why our family doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. Victoria got an F on the paper, and I threatened to go to the school board if the principal didn't get it changed. Victoria got an A, and the class got a lesson on Native American heritage. 

Ignorance and not near enough education in the school systems! It is very sad that a majority of what is taught is very superficial and the dark aspects of our history are neatly tucked away.Very sad!

Considered a day of mourning in our house.

For skins [American Indians], Thanksgiving should be The Last Supper. 

 

The United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a statue of Grand Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember and reflect in the hope that America will never forget.

Do I celebrate Thanksgiving? No, I don’t celebrate. But I do take advantage of the holiday and get together with family and friends to share a large meal without once thinking of the Thanksgiving in 1621. I think it is the same in many Native households. It is ironic that Thanksgiving takes place during American Indian and Alaskan Native Heritage Month. An even greater irony is that more Americans today identify the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday than as National American Indian Heritage Day.  

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendeant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

The original version of this essay was published on November 23, 2011.

Comments (53)

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We Dakota/Lakota people have a thanksgiving time, its called the Sun Dance and takes place in July of the year.

Well i grew up celebrating a day of family, food, thanks for what we have... i am glad i read this article. i never knew any truths about the past as far as the first thanksgiving. this is an enlightner of history that needs to be told...like a lot of other truths that need to be told about other tribes. history is what the non-indians want people to know. never want to put a blemish on their so called heroes of the past. Thanks and many Ah hos Dennis for writing and putting this out there for those of us that never knew...AH HO

For the past say 25 years I have tried to make anything but turkey
on thanksgiving thursday. I feel its the only thing I can personally do to show my true feelings. Yeah my kids have been as understanding as they can be and as they grow older and wiser they appreciate and respect my feelings. Its difficult at times to be different. I am a Mashpee Wampanoag and proud and thankful everyday of the year.

thanks for sharing this.

Thank you for this Reality Check...from one who trying to find her roots in such awakening.

Very good. I will share this on FB. For our family too, it's about being together with close friends and perhaps some who have no family in town. In elementary school there was the whole pilgrim thing, but once I became a teenager and learned more about history, I too realized the pilgrims were nothing to celebrate.

For Euramericans, Thanksgiving should be a Day of Atonement.

In the southeast, Harvest busk is like a thanksgiving for the community. It happens in the fall, and the community comes together to give thanks to the world for providing what was necessary to survive. It is the transition from female time of year to male time of year; from community-focus to family-oriented time of year. Thanksgiving in my family has always been a familial event. While the genocide of our people has always made this time of year a difficult burden to carry, I try to remember that those who do "re-enactments" with "indians" wearing construction paper feathers are simply ignorant of the past. Thanksgiving is not a time for everyone to celebrate a past event, it is a time to give thanks and celebrate your family in the PRESENT. Mvto!

I have shared this with on FB. I have shared the "real" story with my ESL classes. They, of course, are shocked to hear the truth. This has been a good lesson for them in critical literacy.
We will be praying today at our table for the opening of hearts and minds of all people. Blessings

I'm a Dine and do have mixed feelings in regards to integrating historical facts with a day set aside to just be, simply put, thankful. As for the historical aspects that surround the day, what holiday hasn't been tinged with some hypocricy or blatant cries of foul from both sides of the argument. I feel for my ancestors, but I am also an American. An American Indian who was abandoned by his mother and father and had no help from his tribe, but who was raised to respect all cultures and to not lean on a crutch of self pity but to rise above it. To understand that events that occured 100 to 500 years ago dont define me, but I will remember them. I respect the old ways, but they are just that. Old.. should they be forgotten? no. But we should not alienate native americans who chose to move on and integrate into mainstream America, why? what has it gotten us in the last 70 years with all the social programs in effect and doing nothing to further our plight on the rez??? NOTHING!!! I am thankful for my immediate family and I am thankful to live in a country that allows me to worship freely to choose my beliefs and to a nation that I chose to serve while in the Military. We need to stop bringing up past events, stop living in the past, live in the moment and live for tomorrow!

That is how we as Natives will prosper... LIVE!

On FB, I asked a friend of mine who works with Native Americans what they thought of Thanksgiving. I asked if they mark it the way we do Pearl Harbor Day or September 11th, because to them, Thanksiving must be the start of something terrible. A man named Yancey Red Corn responded and sent this link. I am very grateful to read the truth and understand how the Native Americans think. Thanks for posting this.

Please, keep up the fantastic work. In fact, I'm actually looking to become a writer, and your straightforward style has me very impressed. Once again, thanks for writing....

While I agree with Mr. Zotigh in his concern, the first thing is to correct in our own thinking that the Plymouth dinner in 1621 was the first time the Natives actually saved the Europeans and Natives were in turn punished. It was one hundred years before, in 1542, that the Pueblo Indians saved the life of Cabeza de Vaca and his group. There are so many other examples where the Natives saved the Europeans and then sat down as humans to give them food. And in each instance the Europeans then returned to help kill and displace those Natives. This is why we should take time at the European's thanksgiving to remind them that over and over again they give the Natives no reason to celebrate.
Ron Andrade, Los Angeles Indian Commission

Very good and informative post. My mother was Cherokee; met my dad who was a local sheriff back in '69.

I shared this on my facebook, I learnt something precious here, Thank you!

Thank you for this Reality Check. Thanksgiving should be a Day of Atonement.

Interesting and important information. It is really beneficial for us. Thanks

Thank you for sharing this informative article.Site design is good and very interesting blog. I really like it. Nice post.

Continue the wonderful good article, I just read couple of articles about this web page.

Very interesting information, in Greece we really like American Indian tradition.

As Far as I know, yes they do!

Admiring all the trouble you set into your blog. I explicit liked this post. Best regards

Great story, I'm glad I read it because I learned something from the past.

I am so glad to have found your enlightening information. I have Native American ancestors, and even as a little girl when it was required to make those little paper mache indians, I wondered even then why would the Native Americans have celebrated that day? They had everything taken from them that they loved. To this day because of having some Native American blood I don't always care to Celebrate THAT day. Heaven forbid I expressed this to others. I'd be the black sheep of the family(s).

I am working on our diversity newsletter and would like permission to print your article.
Thank you

Shelley: The museum is very happy to grant you permission to reprint Dennis's essay in your newsletter. Thank you for asking.

In retrospect to the holiday, it is very understandable that Thanksgiving is still considered a time of despair for some cultures. For many, the holiday is sure a great time for families and friends coming together and putting differences off to the side. For others, especially for some Native Americans, it can be a time of depression to one's heritage. Nonetheless, turkey and football tend to help overlook the Native American community's grief which the holiday has somewhat belittled them of their roots. Thanksgiving still carries it's pros and cons behind the roots of the holiday.

Thank you for sharing the history with us! I have also read that the first thanksgiving was actually a meeting of men only. And it was to discuss politics. I'm not sure of the facts behind that.

I am an American Indian. My brother and I were adopted as toddlers. We never knew our heritage, but that doesn't make us any less Indian. We are what we are. In some ways, I feel it is part of the tragedy. That we weren't raised in our own culture. Even though we are alive, we are somehow extinguished as Indians.

That being said, my sympathies lie completely in the middle. I can only imagine how it feels for generations of people to carry on stories that are not genuine. However, I feel instead of being angry about it as a culture, Indians should do something to change it. I am sure I am not alone in wondering, do Indians, as a group, want Americans to completely forget about the kindness the Indians showed them? Even in your story, kindness was shown by monks and others in England and New England. How can children honor Indians in elementary school? Don't forget children made pilgrim hats in school too! When we made feathers and bands in school, it was never done to demean Indians, it was intended to honor that day of peace. That's how it was in my school anyway. It may not have been done right, but the intent to do right was there. Why shouldn't Indians be included in the history of that day?

I think Indians could use Thanksgiving as both a remembrance of tragedy and a celebration of the strength of those who survived. Indians could use this as an opportunity to educate the American public about the true facts of the first thanksgiving. I believe just being angry about it will never make room for growth and peace. You mentioned yourself, that Indians gave thanks every day. These traditions could be taught to the world and carried on by everyone. I believe it is time to take these opportunities and change them into good. There is so much that the last surviving Indians can share and teach the world. If Indians could become our teachers and leaders, maybe some of the damage that was done by America's forefathers, could begin to be reversed by this generation and generations to come. I believe if we all can work together, amazing things can happen. Maybe fledgling groups can grow strong and flourish with the support of the nation.

At some point, if we want to survive to bring the truth to the next generations, we should find peace.

Excellent blog. Very interesting information. Information I didn't know about.

I am a History student in England and I am doing a Thesis on Inter-relations between the Natives in New England and the English, I would like permission to use this blog entry as part of my dissertation, of course I will reference it appropriately.

Harriet,

Yes, please feel free to cite Dennis Zotigh's post in your thesis. You may also want to read his recent reply to the same question about the 4th of July: http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2013/07/do-american-indians-celebrate-the-4th-of-july.html

Best regards.

Now this is the info I have been searching for my mini project. Thanks a lot!

Sonya Flores @ Dennis Zotigh, Damn brother I enjoyed your blog but with a heavy heart. When my kids were in pre- school is when I decided I needed to represent our people at this time of year more then any other. I would be damned if my kids were gonna wear paper bags like the other students. I wasn't having that.

I learned to get the story across at their age level and show them the beauty and generosity of our people. I remember growing up and my mom getn upset with me because on Thanksgiving day I would come to the dinner table in my p.js and hair unbrushed, knowing the day was not a celebration. But now that I'm a mother of 3 and a grandmother of 1, I understand as Native people we give thanks to the Creator everyday.

On Thanksgiving Day Im just grateful our people are still here and still stand strong. Thank you so much for your blog, I look forward to many more! Aho!

We spend the day with family are thankful for our family but give thanks everyday to our Creator. As a pre school teacher I never did the pilgrim thanksgiving lesson. I did catch a little backlash but in my class we did art projects about turkeys- My children were kept at home so as not to participate in thanksgiving plays.

I totally appreciate you sharing this. Most people honestly do not realize why American Indian's find it difficult to "celebrate" this day. Thankful for the Whites killing off the Native people? What?? It is hard to be thankful for SOME things at this time. I AM thankful that the American Indian has pursued thru the years...and I am part American Indian. Wa~do...

Good day thank you , for the information ... This was so cool .. .

Thank you for sharing this. We celebrate our meal with Native Traditional Food.

Thank you for taking the time, and educating us, I always wanted to know the truth.

I believe it should be a time to give thanks with family. I am Seneca from the Iroquois confederacy. We lost alot but have gained back much in southwestern New York..But I believe the truth should be told...We helped these strange people from another land and what was the return? At that time misery and death...

Im a mother,grand and greatgrandmother. I have tryed very hard to raise my children with wisdom to use their minds and question to take each and everyones thoughts as just that their thoughts always have compassion and love in their hearts but to know the truth on any of the study of man takes the study of all sides them maybe with gods help and the now study of genes and digging the bones from the earth we can learn more I can only see the miscarriage of right to put any people in bondage would have to be wrong. By the time we get to this age I dont think our family has missed out on any blood line, We got it all! Thank God for each and everyone. We love to celebrate thanksgiving in our family some hunt some eat some watch football some eat some love card games we have had 2 tables of pinocle pitch all kinds of board games. Games in the yard just what ever we had enough to play foot races grandmother against 2yr olds if you look through my note and see anything but love Ive missed my calling. We have somethat come over in ships and some that met them some fought for the north and some for the south but we can all come together for thanksgiving. Wish you could try my oklahoma cornbread dressing. God Bless

Yes we do

Can you post some information about what happened after the Pequot massacre? People should know about how the Thanksgiving "tradition" evolved down to the present day - when it became a national holiday and why. Perhaps a boomlet in school essays for Heritage Month is called for - all around the country!

Thank you so much, Dennis! This is the first time I read something about Thanksgiving that actually makes sense even to my European mind...

As an ESL teacher I am supposed to present to my students the culture of the English-speaking world, and I have had trouble explaining what Thanksgiving is, primarily because I myself could not figure out what this day is about.
I am well aware that it is just the nature of holidays that their present form is very different from what it was hundreds of years ago, so the present-day Thanksgiving myth is not surprising for me. However, I was really missing original historical information and also the other side of the story.
Now I know what to teach.

Thank you for this blog post. As a person of mixed eastern (Jewish) and western (Christian) European ancestry I am familiar with the hypocritical nature of celebrations of joy and thanksgiving. As a Quaker I have learned that in addition to many honest dealings with indigenous Americans my chosen religious group participated in founding and running some of those horrendous Indian boarding schools. I myself was not born yet to participate in either the good or the bad things of the past, but I am here now. I hope and pray that those of us living today will bravely face our true histories and continue our lives with humility as well as self respect, that we recognize that of God in every person, and that we do all the we can for good as way opens.

To my knowledge I am not American Indian. However, I have always admired and felt a kinship with their beliefs and ways. What was done to the native peoples is a travesty and disgrace. Not just this specific incident, but through out history. I had never heard these facts, but plan to share. In our family we just celebrate our family and thank the creator that we can be together.

Greeting in the name of the Great Spirit.
May you find joy in each day of thanks.
The history of this day will never be fully known, as too many ills have past to NOT be mindful of. We continue to give thanks each day as normal, but do not forget what happened and is still happening. Over the many moons, Great Leaders have spoken on this subject. Not much of it is good, but they also said to continue our celebrating our thanks for the day.
THEY can NEVER regain the trust they lost then, and have remained resolute in ignoring true history.
This falls on them and is NOT ours to 'cure'. Let us remember how we are still proud members of a society with better morals

To my knowledge, none of us were around in 1621, but I think we're missing the point here. Why would you not celebrate it? If it was only for a day or three, it still was a time that for that short period people from very different backgrounds came together as what they are gods creations. The great creator didn't just create Native Americans, he created everyone. I think we need to reflect on periods in history that people are able to put differences aside and enjoy the moment. I think the world needs more of that. Europeans, starting with Columbus were very cruel to the "Indians" as he called them. The early explorers such as De Soto, Pizarro, Cortez wiped out whole tribes and it didn't stop there. Who can forget the trail of tears. These are all black days and a blot on the American past. Unfortunately throughout history, one group of people has found it necessary to extinguish another group. You have the Egyptians and Israelites, the Romans and anybody else, Hitler and the Jews...It just goes on and on.

For my way of thinking, we should strive to celebrate brotherhood, just as I would like to think those people did so long ago. On thanksgiving I WILL have turkey and give thanks for all the blessings the creator has bestowed on me during the year. To me the lesson I took from my school was how the Native Americans came to the aid of the Europeans and saved them from distinction. By celebrating now, I think we take that long look back and honor our brothers. To paint this as a black period for either side, in my opinion is wrong. There were plenty of other black periods, but I don't think this was one.

Wanishi
(Lenape for Thank you)
Some of us are starting to hold educational events on Red/Black Friday.

Ankuntuwakan!
(Blessings to you)
~RuthAnn


after some 88 years, I have finally traced my Roots back to John Howard and Elizabeth Tilley, passengers on the Mayflower. Having read 'Mayflower' and learning of the violation of the Natives, I was less than proud.
Ironically, my widowed grand mother married an Osage gentleman from Oklahoma: circa 1930 He would dance and sing, in his Native language, in their parlor in Brooklyn.
As I moved from NY to MN, 1970, I wanted to learn about the Natives of this State and enrolled in the American Indian Studies at U MN and had an Ojibwe teacher that enlightened us about the culture and language of her people. Also took other classes regarding treaties, reservation creation etc
Upon Retirement I did lectures to schools and Retirement Homes; calculated some 10,000 people that I 'enlightened'.
I have stayed with the Cree, Ojibwe and Hopi People on their reservations and have helped some in many financial ways.
Also, I have grand children with Cherokee, Mayan, and Inca ancestors.
Perhaps some of these good deeds will make up for the tragedy of the 'Christians' that brought on the King Philip War and all leading up to Wooded Knee and today; I did attend the Commeration there in 1990.

I really appreciate your information and clarity. I guess I still have a question in my mind. You talked about the first Thanksgiving as being a mutual celebration and coming together of two peoples. May I ask, if that is what some are remembering, despite the horrible and tragic future results Years later, is that such an awful thing? Would it not be good to remember the moment where all came together for good? AND also teaching the terrible future atrocities that happened as well. Long story short, can we not celebrate the good in that moment, while still remembering and learning from the bad?

November 21, 2014

Meet Native America: Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State Representative

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Ponka-We Victors, Kansas State representative, District 103

What tribes are you affiliated with?

The Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma

Ponkawe3
Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors (member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation of Arizona).

What is a significant point in history from one of your tribes that you would like to share?

In 1879, Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe successfully argued in a U.S. District Court that Native Americans are “persons within the meaning of the law.” Not only did he see justice in a U.S. court, but he paved the way for others to fight for Native American rights.

How is your state government set up?

The Kansas government is comprised of
and divided into executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches. The state legislature is composed of 125 representatives and 40 senators.

How are leaders chosen? 

Representatives are elected for a two-year term, and senators are elected for a four-year term. There are no term limits.

Are Democrats or Republicans more dominant in your state?

Republicans have the majority in Kansas.

Do legislators vote along party lines?

There are times where we can all come together on certain issues, and then there are times where we have to agree to disagree. 

Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your state?

I’m sure there are by descent, but not very many. I hope to see this change someday and that Native Americans have representation on every level of government.

How many tribes are in your state? Who are they?

There are four tribes in Kansas. They are the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas, Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, and the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your state?

Yes, it’s important to keep an open line of communication with the four tribes of Kansas and to keep them updated on what’s going on in our state. I also encourage them to visit the Capitol frequently and to sit in on various hearings or testify on an issue.

Do the Native people in Kansas vote in state elections?

Yes. It’s been a slow process, but I know participation will increase as the Native American population becomes more aware of state issues and how the debate might include them and their loved ones.

How often does your state congress meet?

The Kansas State Legislature meets on the second Monday of every January and adjourns in May or when our business at the Capitol is completed.

What responsibilities do you have as a state representative?

I create and vote on legislation that could become law in Kansas. Also, I am assigned to committees that deal with various state issues, including the state budget and oversight of state agencies.

Ponkawe1a
Representative Ponka-We Victors.

What is a significant point in the history of Kansas that you would like to share?

Charles Curtis was the first Native American to hold national office in the United States when he became vice president in 1929. Curtis was born in Topeka, Kansas, and came from the Kansa, Osage, and Potawatomi tribes. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. I believe he influenced Native Americans and set an example for us to step up and not be afraid to take the lead.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your community?

Growing up I was always aware of the conditions that our Native people had to live with dealing with health care, education, land issues, etc. I always questioned why we had the worst health care available, and I wanted to see a change at a young age. For example, sometimes I had to wait in the emergency room for three hours or so at the Indian Health Service hospital to be seen by a doctor. When I graduated from college, I decided to intern in Washington, D.C., through a Morris K. Udall Native American Congressional Internship. I witnessed firsthand how our budgets and issues were discussed and sometimes Native American funding was cut. I didn’t see a lot of Native American representation on the federal level, and Congress and the administration were making decisions for us. I decided that I would run for office when the time was right so we could have a voice.

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Former Kansas State Representative Geraldine Flaharty of Wichita. She was my mentor the first year that I was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 2010. Rep. Flaharty is always available to listen to my concerns and give me advice on certain issues. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 

I am a direct descendant of two chiefs from my Ponca heritage—Chief Big Snake and Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe. They inspire me to be a strong leader and to stand up for others. I am proud to be a descendant of these great leaders.

Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native?

There are approximately 7,117 constituents in District 103. Less than 1 percent are Native.

How have you used your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

For so long we didn’t have a voice at the capitol. Now I am proud that not only do we have a voice in the Kansas Statehouse, but I can be at the table and be a part of the process to make sure the four tribes and other minorities are included and not forgotten when key issues are being discussed and voted on.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your Native community?

Dare to dream and don’t be afraid of change. I wouldn’t be where I am if I was scared of change or if I didn’t take every opportunity that crossed my path. Find something that you are passionate about and find a mentor in that specific area to lead you in the right direction.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to encourage more Native Americans to run for office whether it is at a municipal, state, or federal level. We need more representation and a voice on all levels of government. 

Thank you.


Photographs © Paula D. Moore, used with permission.


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 
Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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November 11, 2014

Statement from Director Kevin Gover on Suzan Harjo and Receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Image

Suzan Harjo at the entrance of "Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and the American Indian Nations" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Paul Morigi/AP Images for The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian)

I wish to congratulate my colleague and friend, Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee), on being named one of 19 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented by President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2014.

Suzan has worked tirelessly on behalf of Native peoples as an activist, journalist and leader. Her list of achievements is long and include being the founding president of the Morning Star Institute, a national Native rights organization that promotes Native Peoples' traditions, culture and arts. She is one of seven Native people who filed the 1992 landmark lawsuit, Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc., regarding the name of the Washington, D.C., football team. Her social and political activism dates back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when she was news director for the American Indian Press Association and producer of Seeing Red, the first Indian news show in the United States, on WBAI-FM Radio in New York. As a special assistant for Indian legislation in President Carter's administration, she was principal author of the "President's Report to Congress on American Indian Religious Freedom." She served as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1984 through 1989.

Dr. Harjo’s history and relationship with the museum began over two decades ago as a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian (1990–1996). She began work in 1967 that led to the NMAI, to repatriation law, and to reform of national museum policies dealing with Native Americans. She was a trustee of NMAI's predecessor museum and collection in New York City from 1980 to 1990, and was NMAI's first Program Planning Committee chair and principal author of the NMAI policies on Exhibits (1994), Indian Identity (1993), and Repatriation (1991), and as director of the 2004-2005 NMAI Native Languages Archives Repository Project. She now serves as guest curator for the recently opened exhibition, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, and as editor of the accompanying publication of the same name.

I could not be more proud to see Suzan join the company of such illuminaries and cultural influencers such as Ben Bradlee, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Sen. Daniel Inouye. She and Sen. Inouye were there to sign the MOU that transferred the collection from the Museum of the American Indian to the Smithsonian Institution on May 8, 1989. Her continued work as an inspiring leader and role model has made Indian Country proud and we support her as she receives this national recognition and well deserved honor!

Kevin Gover (Pawnee)
Director, National Museum of the American Indian

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November 07, 2014

Meet Native America: Kevin P. Brown, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 


Chairman Brown and Matagha
Chairman Kevin P. Brown, Mohegan Tribe, standing beside a bronze statue of his
great-grandfather, Chief Matagha (Burrill Fielding). Mohegan Reservation,
Uncasville, Connecticut, 2013.


Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

Kevin P. Brown, chairman, Mohegan Tribe.

Can you share your name in your language and what it means? 

Wompsuhq Masqaq (Whomp-suk Mas-kwak)—it means Red Eagle. Mother was Red Feather, Grandmother was Red Bird, Father was Irish. I retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army after 25 years of service, including a few years fighting against an insurgency. What is the relevance of that to my name? The symbol for the rank of colonel is an eagle. There is also a famous half-Indian figure in history—William Weatherford, but—whose Creek name translates to Red Feather; he fought in the Creek War of 1813–14 against the United States.

Where is your tribe located?

The Mohegan Reservation is 544 acres astride the Thames River near Uncasville, Connecticut. Uncasville is named for the famous Mohegan Sachem Uncas (ca. 1588–1683).

Where was your tribe originally from?

We trace our ancestry back to the times of Uncas here on this same piece of land where our reservation sits today, with ties to Upstate New York before migration to Connecticut.

What is a significant point in history from the Mohegan Tribe that you would like to share?

Given that this month is Native American Heritage Month and the month in which we celebrate Veterans Day, coupled with my own service as a veteran, I’d like to share the story of Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who was born around 1746. When the American Revolution broke out against the Crown, Mohegan men joined on the side of the rebels. Tribal historians have found 51 of our young men on the muster rolls, log books, and payrolls of the fledgling force, with eight of our men having fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Of particular note, the first Native American to give his life in the defense of this land we call America was Mohegan tribal member Samuel Ashbow, who died fighting at the famous “rail fence” at Bunker Hill in 1775.

Mohegan veterans 2014
Chairman Brown (left) with Mohegan veterans and artist John Herz (standing, fourth from left). Herz's drawing shows the Mohegan volunteer Samuel Ashbow fighting alongside a Massachusetts militiaman at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Mohegan Reservation, Uncasville, Connecticut, August 2014. 


How is your tribal government set up?

By our constitution, the tribe is governed by the Mohegan people, represented by a nine-member Tribal Council and seven-member Council of Elders

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

In addition to the governing bodies described above, the tribe has elected a ceremonial lifetime chief in 2010. She is Lynn Malerba "Many Hearts," is a great-grandchild of former tribal Chief Burrill Fielding (as am I).

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Councilors are elected by the adult tribal membership for four-year staggered terms. This is true for both the Tribal Council and the Council of Elders. 

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

The council meets in open session every week and meets with the tribal membership quarterly, a meeting that also includes the Council of Elders and the chief.

What responsibilities do you have as tribal chairman?

I have dual responsibilities: As chairman, I am the chief executive officer of the tribe and the head of the executive branch of government. Additionally, I serve as the chairman of the board for the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which oversees all of our Mohegan Sun gaming ventures. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

Twenty-five years of active duty service in the U.S. Army provided me a career of leadership opportunities from the platoon level, 38 soldiers, to the garrison command level, where I was responsible for the training, military readiness, support, budgeting, and overall health and welfare of 18,000 soldiers and their family members—essentially the role of mayor and city manager for a 55,000-person community.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My grandmother Loretta Fielding (Red Bird) and my mother, Pauline Fielding Shultz Brown (Red Feather), were tribal nonners, a title given by the Mohegan Tribe to women held in great respect. They inspired me to be proud of my Mohegan heritage from a young age. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who? 

Yes, Chief Burrill Fielding "Matagha," who served the tribe in that position from 1937 to the time of his death in 1952.

How many members are in the Mohegan Tribe?

Approximately 2,020.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

There are no remaining fluent speakers, but we do maintain a language class where we teach tribal members conversational Mohegan on a sustained basis.

What economic enterprises does your tribe own?

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (MGTA) owns and operates Mohegan Sun, a casino–resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. It is the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere and grosses nearly $1 billion in gaming revenue. The MTGA also owns and operates Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. We are now following a diversified business approach that includes restaurant franchise agreements with Arooga’s and Smashburger restaurants, a wood-pellet business (ThermaGlo), and an office machine joint venture with LDI (Leslie Digital Imaging) for office technology solutions. That venture is called KOTA (a Mohegan word meaning "in close association"). 

What annual events does your tribe sponsor?

Our Mohegan powwow is traditionally known as Wigwam and has also been known as the Green Corn Festival. It is an annual event held in mid-August. During that same week, we host a tribal homecoming and several cultural and heritage activities sponsored by our Cultural and Community Programs Department. The latter events are private to the tribe, but the Wigwam is open to the public and includes dancers and drum groups from all across the country.

What other attractions are available for visitors on your land?

In addition to Mohegan Sun, which is located on reservation land, we have Fort Shantok on the banks of the Thames River. Fort Shantok is a place of tremendous historical significance for the Mohegan Tribe, hearkening back to the times of Chief Uncas in the 1600s. It is open to the public except during times of private tribal events. The land now includes recreational activity and outdoor gathering space, along with our tribal burial ground and a ceremonial sacred fire pit.

The Tantaquidgeon Museum is open to the public and located in Uncasville, near Mohegan Sun and our current tribal headquarters. It holds art and artifacts from the Mohegan Tribe and other Native Americans. It was established in 1931 by the Tantaquidgeon family.  

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

That's a complex question, but a simple answer is that we work together on a nation-to-nation footing, including participation in all tribal consultations with the federal government, much as all other federally recognized tribes do.

Cultural with Chief and Chairman
Chief Lynn Malerba (third from left) and Chairman Brown (sixth from left) with members of the Mohegan Cultural and Community Programs Department during a Connecticut state celebration of Native American heritage. Connecticut State Capitol, Hartford, Connecticut, 2013. 


What message would you like to share with the youth of your tribe?

I'd like to stress the importance for tribal youth to be involved in understanding the concept of sovereignty, the importance of effective self-governance, and the importance of sustaining our tribal culture. The value of these things cannot be overstated if we are to ensure the survival of our tribal identities. 

Thank you. 


All photographs are courtesy of the Mohegan Tribe, used with permission.


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 
Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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October 31, 2014

This Day in the Maya Calendar: November 2014

Cholq'ij, the Maya sacred ceremonial calendar of 260 days—a cycle of 20 Day deities and 13 numbers—is the basis of the Maya spirituality that survives to this time, practiced daily among millions of Maya people, in thousands of communities. The interpretation of the days can vary from one Maya people to another. The interpretations given here are based on sustained conversations and participation over three decades with Maya Q'eqchi calendar priest Roderico Teni and daykeeping families in the area of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, by Jose Barreiro (Taíno), head of NMAI’s Office of Latin America, and his wife, Katsi Cook (Mohawk). Glyphs representing the Day lords appear throughout Maya Country; these were painted by Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) of Cobán.

For more background to this series, please see Jose's introduction, "Living in the Practice." For further insight into the role of the Day lords in everyday life, please see the Maya Journal. For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive.

Illustrations: Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya), calendar glyphs. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; 2003. Paint on wood. Purchased from the artist. 26/2685. Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

8 Kame  |  Thursday, November 27, 2014 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 8 is a double balance. A day that recalls the night, tranquility, and silence, Kame is a good day to ask for the ancient and recent ancestors who have gone on, to thank them, and to remember them with purpose. This is an appropriate day to extend reconciliation, to feel and give forgiveness, to develop patience, to invoke against mortal illnesses, to access superior knowledge. Without fear, it is a good day to approach the spiritual dimension, "the enchantment." —Jose Barreiro 

7 Kan  |  Wednesday, November 26, 2014 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 7 is a pivotal number. Kan is the ancient origin—Gucumatz, the Plumed Serpent. This is a day of strict and impartial justice, a day of definition and maturity, and a good day to offer respect and to thank the corn. On Kan, matters of justice, judges, and courts can be cleared up. This is a good day to pray that truth and justice are manifest in the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; a good day to put aside jealousies and request equilibrium in life and in the family. It is a day to ask for physical strength and patience, to contemplate our spiritual evolution, and to rekindle the internal fire. —J. B. 

6 Kat  |  Tuesday, November 25, 2014

262685_KatCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 6 is a middle, even number. On Kat the unity of the people is paramount, and knowledge is deepened. Kat is the network of the sacred heart, the family hearth. Today is a good day to pray for your family fireplace, the spirit of the fire that belongs in the home, the one that calls other spirits to ceremony and speaks for them. Kat is the net that hauls in the fish and the net that holds the ears of corn, a day that can bring the fruition of things and the untangling of complications. This is a good day to help free prisoners from captivity, to request vigor and power for the weak. —J. B. 

5 Aqbal  |  Monday, November 24, 2014

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 5 is one hand. Aqbal is clarity, the separation of darkness and light as the Sun disperses the fog and obscurity of night. This is a good day to ask for a peaceful and happy daybreak, a day to find hidden and lost things, a day to wash away tears of sadness. On Aqbal, the sacred fire is recognized and appreciated. Aqbal is a good day to clean the ashes (renew the heart) of a fireplace and to present a new baby to el Mundo. A potential bride or groom can be revealed on this day. Harvesting of corn can begin on this day. People born on Aqbal relate in the present and are a special link between past and future. They are early risers, good workers, tranquil and kind, strong before an enemy, good researchers and finders of hidden things, often called "the candle of the home." —J. B. 

4 Iq  |  Sunday, November 23, 2014

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 4 is a balance. Wind is powerful, violent, driven of itself, identity. A day of strong emotion, Iq is also a healing day. Good wind is nutritional for human minds; it is the mystic breath and vital inspiration of nature. On Iq, a breeze or wind that splits against your face is a blessing and a cleansing to purge your head and body of illness. Respiratory ills are prayed over on this day. This is a good day to appreciate all of Creation. The Day lord Iq is one of the four Yearbearers, or mams, a creator who helped finish the world and put breath (essence) in human beings. People born on Iq are inclined toward spiritual ways and can impulsively tap into cosmic sources. —J. B.

3 Imox  |  Saturday, November 22, 2014

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 3 is a rotor. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —J. B. 

2 Ajpu  |  Friday, November 21, 2014

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 2 is duality. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B. 

1 Kawoq  |  Friday, November 20, 2014 

262685_KawoqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 1 is the beginning. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

13 Tijax  |  Wednesday, November 19, 2014

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 13 is the highest turbulence. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B. 

12 Noj  |  Tuesday, November 18, 2014

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker; 12 is the highest balance. Noj is a woman's highest intelligence. Maya knowledge and wisdom live in this day—good science to support positive deeds, good projects, good business, a good home. On Noj good ideas are available through the intelligence connected to the movement of the earth. Boys born on this day have important female qualities and can be attentive to the knowledge of nature, which rules all. Girls born on this day can be clear leaders. This is a good day to hear advice and make decisions, a good day to feed the mind, recognize curiosity, and strengthen memory. Noj is one of the four Yearbearers. —J. B. 

11 Ajmac  |  Monday, November 17, 2014

262685_AjmacCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Ajmac. Ajmac is Bee, also Vulture; 11 is high turbulence. On Ajmac ancestor spirits can detect and smooth the thread of time in our lives. Prudence, intelligence, ancient wisdom are in this day. This is a day to plead forgiveness for serious faults and to be judged. It is a day that demands moral rectitude, respect, and sincere analysis. On this day our faults (stains) must be faced and paid for; humble request for pity is encouraged. Ajmac is a propitious day for the women of a household to make peace with one another after conflict, to apologize for sharp words; it is a good day to pray for smooth relationships and the renewal of agreements among women. Hard luck can face those born on Ajmac. —J. B. 

10 Tz'ikin  |  Sunday, November 16, 2014

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 10 is a high balance. Tz'ikin carries messages between the Heart of Earth and Heart of Sky. Cold, heat, light, air, cloud are its elements. Love, intuition, precognition are strong in those born on this day. Tz'ikin is a good day for humans to follow birds to the corn—to find good material luck. This is a good day to ask for revelation and intelligence, for vision, and for abundance; a good day to ask for collaboration in projects or for personal freedom. On this day, women have the privilege to ask for their husbands and sons to triple the family money. —J, B. 

9 I'x  |  Saturday, November 15, 2014 

262685_I'x

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 9 is a triple rotor. I'x is woman's energy day. This is a day to connect with your own land and to pray for its original owners; to pray for and appreciate your house; to pray for the finances to buy and sustain land; to ask for fertility in humans and animals; to request vigor and strength for reproductive organs, particularly female. I'x is a good day to pray to the mountains in favor of the land. It is a good day for a woman to request strength in her husband's commitment to matrimonial stability. People born on I'x have a close relationship to el Mundo and receive good access to precious metals. I'x is a good day for solitude and meditation. —J. B.

8 Aj  |  Friday, November 14, 2014 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 8 is a double balance. Aj begins the women's cycle, sentiments of family and home, the spinal cord. Aj is life and receives life. This is a day of resurgence and renewal, as in the reed and the corn; a day for the triumph of good over evil, life over death; a day of happiness, renewal of food, money, the heart of life. People born on this day renew their communities; they are sickly as children and sturdy as adults; they are especially lucky; they are good awakeners of their families and communities; they make good midwives. Aj is a good day to ask for clarity of destiny, a good day to pray for the protection of your life and of the newborn, a good day to pray for twins, a good day to pray for humanity. —J. B. 

7 Eh  |  Thursday, November 13, 2014

262685_Eh

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 7 is a pivotal number. Eh can orient individuals, groups, or communities to their destiny. Eh is the day to ask for protection from dangers and obstructions during travels—specifically, that on your road the attention of thieves or highway police or border inspectors will be deviated from your trajectory. Solitude is in Eh, light rain, kindness, alignment. People born on this day can be good counselors, spiritual guides with the gift of prayer to Ajaw (Creator) on the destiny of things. Also, good dentists are born on this day. Eh is one of the four pillars of the 20 days, a Yearbearer—a strong, especially sacred day. A prayer started in Batz can be carried by Eh through the full cycle of 20 days. —J. B. 

6 Batz  |  Wednesday, November 12, 2014

262685_BatzCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Batz. Batz is Monkey; 6 is a middle, even number. Monkey braid, monkey fingers, monkey tail, Batz is the grasp of the monkey's hand so tight and braided the fist will not let go, even in death. Batz is a good day for beginnings, and for some Maya daykeepers, Batz begins the 20-day calendar. Batz is unity, a good day to tie things together, a good day for a marriage or to start a construction, a good day for initiation into the ways. Batz is the thread of time that rolls out from under the earth, weaving life until cut, weaving time into history. People born on Batz are calm and self-confident; they make good spiritual guides and leaders, and goodhearted architects. —J. B.

5 Tzi  |  Tuesday, November 11, 2014

6a01156f5f4ba1970b019b04c65ab2970d-200wiCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Tzi. Tzi is the Canine, the guardian; 5 is one hand. Dog, Wolf, Coyote, Tzi can be snarly, terrifying the unprepared with his bark and his bite. Tzi people are zealous to guard the sacredness of ceremony, to identify and punish "intruders," those not disciplined to participate. Benevolent to friends and fierce to enemies, Tzi is steady to reward or punish. Tzi will punish those who disrespect the Days and the spirit of the family. This is a good day to ask for mystic insight for leaders so that they can seek and discover hidden things, so that they can be just. Tzi has strong sexual energy, hard to restrain. When this energy is defined, people born on Tzi make loyal friends, husbands, and wives. —J. B. 

4 Toj  |  Monday, November 10, 2014

262685_TojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Toj. Toj is the mystic Fish—the tear of jade and drops of rain, water falling; 4 is a balance. Toj is a day of making even, a good day to pay spiritual and financial debts and to collect what you are owed. This is a day of evenness for a family, a good day for parents to pay the family's debt to el Mundo, good for the oldest son to appreciate the father and the father to appreciate the mountain. Illness can be deviated from the family by making a ceremonial offering on this day. —J. B. 

3 Anil  |  Sunday, November 9, 2014

262685_AnilCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Anil. Anil is the fertility in the seed, Anil is Rabbit; 3 is a rotor. Anil is red, white, yellow, black—the four colors of corn, the seed of life that is the unity of the world. Anil is renewal after death, regeneration of the earth. Anil people are four-directions people and can be good travelers. This is a day of coming back, a day to generate and appreciate abundance, a day of declaring love to create a new relationship, a day to announce the wish to do business, a day of finding lost things, a day to ask for help in overcoming shyness. —J. B. 

2 Kiej  |  Saturday, November 8, 2014 

262685_Kiej

Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Kiej. Kiej is the Deer; 2 is duality. Kiej is the four directions, four hoofs striking the earth at once, the quaternity of the cosmos linked to prayer, highest aviso to el Mundo—the living world. Kiej is the staff of authority, keen energy of a chief to detect danger, perception of the leader buck, his horns. Kiej is a good day to pray for mental and physical agility, a day of agile travelers and good communicators. It is a day also to ask for clarity before gossip and ill intentions. A major gift of nature, Kiej holds indefatigable energy. He is one of the four main carriers of time. —J. B. 

1 Kame  |  Friday, November 7, 2014 

262685_KameCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 Kame. Kame is the Owl and the recognition of death; 1 is the beginning. A day that recalls the night, tranquility, and silence, Kame is a good day to ask for the ancient and recent ancestors who have gone on, to thank them, and to remember them with purpose. This is an appropriate day to extend reconciliation, to feel and give forgiveness, to develop patience, to invoke against mortal illnesses, to access superior knowledge. Without fear, it is a good day to approach the spiritual dimension, "the enchantment." —J. B. 

13 Kan  |  Thursday, November 6, 2014 

262685_KanCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Kan. Kan is the Snake; 13 is the highest turbulence. Kan is the ancient origin—Gucumatz, the Plumed Serpent. This is a day of strict and impartial justice, a day of definition and maturity, and a good day to offer respect and to thank the corn. On Kan, matters of justice, judges, and courts can be cleared up. This is a good day to pray that truth and justice are manifest in the Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; a good day to put aside jealousies and request equilibrium in life and in the family. It is a day to ask for physical strength and patience, to contemplate our spiritual evolution, and to rekindle the internal fire. —J. B. 

12 Kat  |  Wednesday, November 5, 2014

262685_KatCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Kat. Kat is Spider, also Web and Fire; 12 is the highest balance. On Kat the unity of the people is paramount, and knowledge is deepened. Kat is the network of the sacred heart, the family hearth. Today is a good day to pray for your family fireplace, the spirit of the fire that belongs in the home, the one that calls other spirits to ceremony and speaks for them. Kat is the net that hauls in the fish and the net that holds the ears of corn, a day that can bring the fruition of things and the untangling of complications. This is a good day to help free prisoners from captivity, to request vigor and power for the weak. —J. B. 

11 Aqbal  |  Tuesday, November 4, 2014

262685_AqbalCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 11 Aqbal. Aqbal is the Dawn, also Bat; 11 is high turbulence. Aqbal is clarity, the separation of darkness and light as the Sun disperses the fog and obscurity of night. This is a good day to ask for a peaceful and happy daybreak, a day to find hidden and lost things, a day to wash away tears of sadness. On Aqbal, the sacred fire is recognized and appreciated. Aqbal is a good day to clean the ashes (renew the heart) of a fireplace and to present a new baby to el Mundo. A potential bride or groom can be revealed on this day. Harvesting of corn can begin on this day. People born on Aqbal relate in the present and are a special link between past and future. They are early risers, good workers, tranquil and kind, strong before an enemy, good researchers and finders of hidden things, often called "the candle of the home." —J. B. 

10 Iq  |  Monday, November 3, 2014

262685_IqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 10 Iq. Iq is Wind, also Moon; 10 is a high balance. Wind is powerful, violent, driven of itself, identity. A day of strong emotion, Iq is also a healing day. Good wind is nutritional for human minds; it is the mystic breath and vital inspiration of nature. On Iq, a breeze or wind that splits against your face is a blessing and a cleansing to purge your head and body of illness. Respiratory ills are prayed over on this day. This is a good day to appreciate all of Creation. The Day lord Iq is one of the four Yearbearers, or mams, a creator who helped finish the world and put breath (essence) in human beings. People born on Iq are inclined toward spiritual ways and can impulsively tap into cosmic sources. —J. B. 

9  Imox  |  Sunday, November 2, 2014

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 9 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 9 is a triple rotor. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —J. B. 

8 Ajpu  |  Saturday, November 1, 2014

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 8 is a double balance. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B. 

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Meet Native America: William H. Daisey, chief, Nanticoke Indian Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh 


Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

I'm William H. Daisey, and my title is chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe

Can you share your name in your language, or tell us what it means? 

It's Thunder Eagle. 

Chief William H. Daisey
Chief William H. Daisey, Nanticoke Indian Tribe. Photo courtesy of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe. 

Where is your tribe located? 

Our community is centered in Millsboro, Delaware, where the Indian River widens into Indian River Bay.

Where was your Native nation originally from? 

We're from the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay in what is now Maryland. 

What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share? 

In 1881 the Nanticoke community was recognized by the state of Delaware. The Nanticoke Indian Association received a charter of incorporation from Delaware in 1922.

How is your tribal government set up? 

We have a chief, assistant chief, and five councilpersons

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

No. 

How often are elected leaders chosen?

We hold elections every two years.

How often does your Tribal Council meet?

We meet once a month and hold special council meetings as needed.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your tribe?

I was taught to love and respect the Creator, the land, and my fellow man. I attended many gathering and ceremonies with my elders, which gave me the opportunity to have a greater understanding of our tribe's heritage, culture and the hardships people endured. I am a journeyman in over eight different trades and have over 35 years of supervisory experience acquired in private industry and the public school system. I served on the council for several years and as assistant chief before I was elected as chief.

Nanticoke Powwow 2014
Chief Daisey at the 37th annual Nanticoke Indian Powwow in September 2014. Photo by Barbara Walls, courtesy of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe.

What responsibilities do you have as a tribal leader?

I have the responsibility to be a leader and move our tribe forward, to work with people in mutual respect toward obtaining some of the goals we want to reach. To maintain, protect, and preserve our culture and heritage. To maintain a good relationship with our sister tribes.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

My father, mother, uncle, and the many Native Americans leaders who struggled and sometimes died for us.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?

Yes, Dixon Coursey and John Coursey. Both were tribal leaders of the Nanticoke Tribe in Maryland before the migration to Delaware and the dispersal to the rest of the nation. 

Approximately how many members are in your tribe?

Approximately 3000.

What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?

You have to be no further removed from a Nanticoke member than father/mother, grandfather/grandmother, brother/sister, son/daughter or uncle/aunt who is a brother or sister to the applicant's father or mother, or great uncle/great aunt who is a brother or sister to the applicant's grandfather or grandmother.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?

The last person to speak the Nanticoke language fluently was Lydia Clark, who died in 1856. 

What annual events does the Nanticoke Tribe sponsor?

We have a powwow around Labor Day; a five-kilometer Unity Run, which is open to walkers, too; and a National Native American Heritage Day Celebration, which this year will be on Saturday, November 8.

Nanticoke Indian Museum
The Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro, Delaware. A National Historic Landmark, the building originally housed the Harmon School for Nanticoke Children, founded in 1921. Photo reprinted under Creative Commons copyright.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?  

We have the Nanticoke Indian Museum, which is housed in a former Nanticoke schoolhouse. This is the only Native American museum in Delaware, and it is listed by the federal government as a National Historic Landmark. Visitors can get a real taste of village life as they view the artifacts, some dating back to 8,000 B.C. There is also a stage with animals and skins that were indigenous to this area.

How does your tribe deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

We are a state-recognized tribe, so we don't have the same sovereignty as federally recognized tribes. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe?

It is important to spend time learning and embracing our culture, history, traditions, and heritage. If you fail to assume that responsibility, you will be unable to protect and preserve our heritage, and it will be lost in the sands of time. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity! 

Thank you. 


To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 
Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 

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