« Meet Native America: Amber C. Toppah, Chairman of the Kiowa Business Committee, Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma | Main | This Day in the Maya Calendar: December 2013 »

November 26, 2013

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.

The essay below by Dennis Zotigh was originally written for Thanksgiving 2011. Since then, Dennis has asked Native friends to talk about how their families observe Thanksgiving. Here are some of the responses people gave him this year: 

Wellington, Kansas: Thanksgiving was a blending of two different cultures, one culture helping another to survive. The historical knowledge we have now of what was actually taking place may not be the same as what was being experienced in those days. Our assessment now may not be fair because of all that the Native people have endured. 

Exeter, California: Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about. I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions—family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people. 

Sevierville, Tennessee: Regardless of all the political views of Thanksgiving, we can all find something to be thankful for!

San Antonio, Texas: Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent 95 percent of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. It would be a great way to help others teach courses and show how to respect the culture.

Edmonton, Alberta: We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones' being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , "Do you think we should have helped them?" There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table.


Dennis's original essay and readers' responses to his question from earlier Thanksgivings:

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.

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 have received over the years:

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 descendant 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.


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.


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.

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

(Blessings to you)

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?

This is very good information on thanksgiving. I would like to wish Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Thank you for a clear and concise rendition of what really occurred almost 400 years ago.

I give Thanks for my family and friends every year I do not celebrate the first Thanksgiving it is not right. I have a house and basic health that I give Thanks for . Yes I remember those times.

I don't have enough Native North American blood to really claim (1/16th if that), but half of my family comes from the indigenous peoples of Central and South America. I'm also Pagan. So, Thanksgiving for me isn't about celebrating the colonization and subsequent destruction of the Americas. My Thanksgiving is more for reflecting about what I have to be thankful for in my life and, when possible, enjoying the company of my chosen family and friends and sharing good food with them.

One more myth that needs to be exploded ....... the Pilgrims didn't leave England to escape religious persecution; they actually found England to be too liberal in allowing people to freely celebrate their religion; and wanted to create a less tolerant society elsewhere, where only their religious views would be allowed.

Great. I will impart this on FB. For our family as well, its about being as one with close companions and maybe some who have no family nearby. In rudimentary school there was the entire explorer thing, however once I turned into a youngster and adapted all the more about history, I excessively understood the explorers were nothing to celebrate.

I have decided after reading this article to join those Native Americans who are not celebrating Thanksgiving this year in solidarity (for what little that's worth, I suppose).

I was in a Thanksgiving play as a kid and I always felt in later years as I learned some of the actual truths of American history that something important had been stolen from all of us, but I continued having the meal out of habit, figuring that at least the meal itself must have SOME kind of truth. I mean, they wouldn't just lie about THAT would they? I think I'm just done with Thanksgiving now that I know that even that is a total fiction.

Thanks for the truth. It was very interesting to see the different responses.

I am not Haudenosaunee but I am learning about that culture. You may know it as the Iroquois Confederacy but a clearer term is Haudenosaunee, people of the longhouse. Their Thanksgiving address said on many days is a reminder for all of us to be mindful and to give thanks for all in the natural world.

I do not recognize thanksgiving day out of respect for my Native American ancestry I do however celebrate Native American heritage for the entire month and am thankful daily for my blessings. I can cook a turkey anytime because they are sold year round!

Thank you for reminding us about what Thanks and Giving must really mean. Suppose suddenly all residents of the USA became fully aware of the actual events and the meaning that the history and herstory ought to inspire in the holy day that is Thanksgiving. Would it be a game changing awareness?
Thanks and praise to all who voice your comments to this monumental blog. All of your comments are meaningful to the purpose of the blog (the ones I've read, thus far). We feast on the meaning we share in supper abundance, while meaning still nourishes.

If William Bradford's Thanksgiving, and his invitation to share the bounteous meal with warriors of the Wampanoag Federation in 1621, had become the model for future relations between new American settlers and Native Americans, history would need a rewrite. Thanksgiving as it began was the opposite in spirit to what was done to Native Americans. Blaming it as if it commemorates atrocities and genocide is to deprive us of the spiritual resource it represents, encouraging love and appreciation of one another. Remembering the grotesque injustices of the past should not make the future its victim.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.