Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving

by MICHAEL DORRIS (Modoc Nation)

Native Americans have more than one thing not to be thankful about on Thanksgiving. Pilgrim Day, and its antecedent feast Halloween, represent the annual twin peaks of Indian stereotyping. From early October through the end of November, “cute little Indians” abound on greeting cards, advertising posters, in costumes, and school projects. Like stock characters from a vaudeville repertoire, they dutifully march out of the folk-cultural attic (and right down Madison Avenue!) ughing and wah-wah-wahing, smeared with lipstick and rouged; decked out in an assortment of “Indian suits” composed of everything from old clothes to fringed paper bags, little trick-or-treaters and school pageant extras mindlessly sport and cavort.

Considering that virtually none of the standard fare surrounding either Halloween or Thanksgiving contains an ounce of authenticity, historical accuracy, or crosscultural perception, why is it so apparently ingrained? Is it necessary to the North American psyche to perpetually exploit and debase its victims in order to justify its history? And do Native Americans have to reconcile themselves to forever putting up with such exhibitions of puerile ethnocentrism?

It’s Never Uncomplicated

Being a parent is never uncomplicated. One is compelled, through one’s children, to reexperience vicariously the unfolding complexities of growing up, of coping with the uncomprehended expectations of an apparently intransigent and unaffectable world, of carving a niche of personality and point of view amidst the abundance of pressures and demands which seem to explode from all directions. Most people spend a good part of their lives in search of the ephemeral ideal often termed “identity,” but never is the quest more arduous and more precarious— and more crucial—than in the so-called “formative years.”

One would like, of course, to spare offspring some of the pains and frustrations necessarily involved in maturation and selfrealization, without depriving them of the fulfillments, discoveries, and excitements, which are also part of the process. In many arenas, little or no parental control is—or should be—possible. Learning, particularly about self, is a struggle, but with security, support, and love it has extraordinary and marvelously unique possibilities. As parents, our lot is often to watch and worry and cheer and commiserate, curbing throughout our impulse to intervene. The world of children interacting with children is in large part offlimits.

Passivity ends, however, with relation to those adult-manufactured and therefore wholly gratuitous problems with which our children are often confronted. We naturally rise against the greed of panderers of debilitating junk foods; we reject dangerous toys, however cleverly advertised; and we make strict laws to protect against reckless motorists. We dutifully strap our children into seatbelts, keep toxic substances out of reach, and keep a wary eye for the dangerous stranger.

With so many blatant dangers to counter, perhaps it is unavoidable that some of the more subtle and insidious perils to child welfare are often permitted to pass. The deficiencies of our own attitudes and training may be allowed to shower upon our children, thus insuring their continuation, unchallenged, into yet another generation. Much of what we impart is unconscious, and we can only strive to heighten our own awareness and thereby circumvent a repetition ad infinitum of the “sins of the fathers” (and mothers).

And of course, we all make the effort to do this, to one degree or another. It is therefore especially intolerable when we observe other adults witlessly, maliciously, and occasionally innocently, burdening our children with their own unexamined mental junk. Each of us has undoubtedly amassed a whole repertoire of examples of such negative influences, ranked in hierarchy of infamy according to our own values and perspectives. Even with the inauguration of certain broad controls, Saturday morning cartoon audiences are still too often invited to witness and approve violence, cruelty, racism, sexism, ageism, and a plethora of other endemic social vices.

Attitudes pertinent to “racial” or “sexrole” identity are among the most potentially hazardous, for these can easily be internalized— particularly by the “minority” child. Such internalized attitudes profoundly affect self-concept, behavior, aspiration, and confidence. They can inhibit a child before he or she has learned to define personal talents, limits, or objectives, and tend to regularly become self-fulfilling prophesies. Young people who are informed that they are going to be underachievers do underachieve with painful regularity.

Indian Fakelore

The progeny of each oppressed group are saddled with their own specialized set of debilitating—and to parents, infuriating—

stereotypes. As the father of three Native American children, aged ten, six, and three, I am particularly attuned (but not resigned)

to that huge store of folk Americana presuming to have to do with “Indian lore.” From the “One little, two little . . . ” messages of nursery school, to the ersatz pageantry of boy scout/campfire girl mumbo jumbo, precious, ridiculous, and irritating “Indians” are forever popping up.

Consider for a moment the underlying meanings of some of the supposedly innocuous linguistic stand-bys: “Indian givers” take back what they have sneakily bestowed in much the same way that “Indian summer” deceives the gullible flower bud. Unruly children are termed “wild Indians” and a local bank is named “Indian Head” (would you open an account at a “Jew’s hand,” “Negro ear” or “Italian toe” branch?). Ordinary citizens rarely walk “Indian file” when about their business, yet countless athletic teams, when seeking emblems of savagery and bloodthirstiness, see fit to title themselves “warriors,” “braves,” “redskins,” and the like.

On another level, children wearing “Indian suits,” playing “cowboys and Indians,” (or, in the case of organizations like the Y-Indian
Guides, Y-Indian Maidens and Y-Indian Princesses, simply “Indians”), or scratching their fingers with pocket knives (the better to cement a friendship) are encouraged to shriek, ululate, speak in staccato and ungrammatical utterances (or, conversely, in sickeningly flowery metaphor)—thus presumably emulating “Indians.” With depressing predictability, my children have been variously invited to “dress up and dance,” portray Squanto (Pocahontas is waiting in the wings: my daughter is only 3), and “tell a myth.”

Not surprisingly, they have at times evidenced some unwillingness to identify, and thus cast their lot, with the “Indians” that bombard them on every front. My younger son has lately taken to commenting “Look at the Indians!” when he comes across Ricardo Montalban, Jeff Chandler, or the improbable Joey Bishop in a vintage TV western. Society is teaching him that “Indians” exist only in an ethnographic frieze, decorative and slightly titillatingly menacing. They invariably wear feathers, never crack a smile certain conditions), and think about little besides the good old days. Quite naturally, it does not occur to my son that he and these curious and exotic creatures are expected to present a common front— until one of his first grade classmates, garbed in the favorite costume of Halloween (ah, the permutations of burlap!) or smarting from an ecology commercial, asks him how to shoot a bow, skin a hamster, or endure a scrape without a tear. The society image is at the same time too demanding and too limiting a model.

What Does One Do?

As a parent, what does one do? All efficacy is lost if one is perceived and categorized by school officials as a hypersensitive crank, reacting with horror to every “I-is-for-Indian” picture book. To be effective, one must appear to be super-reasonable, drawing sympathetic teachers and vice-principals into an alliance of the enlightened to beat back the attacks of the flat-earthers. In such a pose, one may find oneself engaged in an apparently persuasive discussion with a school librarian regarding a book titled something like Vicious Red Men of the Plains (“Why, it’s set here for 20 years and nobody ever noticed that it portrayed all Indi . . . uh, Native Americans, as homicidal maniacs!”) while at the same time observing in silence a poster on the wall about “Contributions of the Indians” (heavy on corn and canoes, short on astronomy and medicine).

Priorities must be set. One might elect to let the infrequent coloring book page pass uncontested in favor of mounting the battlements against the visitation of a traveling Indianophile group proposing a “playlet” on “Indians of New Hampshire.” These possibly well-intentioned theatricals, routinely headed by someone called “Princess Snowflake” or “Chief Bob,” are among the more objectionable “learning aids” and should be avoided at all costs. It must somehow be communicated to educators that no information about native peoples is truly preferable to a reiteration of the same old stereotypes, particularly in the early grades.

“The Indians Had Never Seen Such a Feast!”

A year ago my older son brought home a program printed by his school; on the second page was an illustration of the  Thanksgiving,” with a caption which read in part: “They served pumpkins and turkeys and corn and squash. The Indians had never

seen such a feast!”

On the contrary! The Pilgrims had literally never seen “such a feast,” since all foods mentioned are exclusively indigenous to the

Americas and had been provided, or so legend has it, by the local tribe.

Thanksgiving could be a time for appreciating Native American peoples as they were and as they are, not as either the Pilgrims or their descendant bureaucrats might wish them to be.

If there was really a Plymouth Thanksgiving dinner, with Native Americans in attendance as either guests or hosts, then the event was rare indeed. Pilgrims generally considered Indians to be devils in disguise, and treated them as such.

And if those hypothetical Indians participating in that hypothetical feast thought that all was well and were thankful in the expectation of a peaceful future, they were sadly mistaken. In the ensuing months and years, they would die from European diseases, suffer the theft of their lands and property and the near-eradication of their religion and their language, and be driven to the brink of extinction.

Thanksgiving, like much of American history, is complex, multifaceted, and will not bear too close a scrutiny without revealing a less-than-heroic aspect. Knowing the truth about Thanksgiving, both its proud and its shameful motivations and history, might well benefit contemporary children. But the glib retelling of an ethnocentric and selfserving falsehood does not do one any good.

Parents’ major responsibility, of course, resides in the home. From the earliest possible age, children must be made aware that many people are wrong-headed about not only Native Americans, but about cultural pluralism in general.

Children must be encouraged to articulate any questions they might have about “other” people. And “minority” children must be given ways in which to insulate themselves from real or implied insults, epithets, slights, or stereotypes. “Survival humor” must be developed and positive models must, consciously and unconsciously, be available and obvious. Sadly, children must learn not to trust uncritically.

Protecting children from racism is every bit as important as insuring that they avoid playing with electrical sockets. 

Poison is poison, and ingrained oppressive cultural attitudes are at least as hard to antidote, once implanted, as are imbibed cleaning fluids.

No one gains by allowing an inequitable and discriminatory status quo to persist. It’s worth being a pain in the neck about.

In preparing this essay on stereotyping and Native American children, I did not concern myself with overt or intentional racism. Native American young people, particularly in certain geographical areas, are often prey to racial epithets and slurs—and to physical abuse—just by being who they are. No amount of “consciousness-raising” will solve this problem; it must be put down with force and determination.

(The late Michael Dorris was an author of awardwinning novels for adults and children. He was of Modoc heritage. This essay originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Council on Interracial Books for Children, Vol. 9, No. 7.)



Jacqueline Keeler Thanksgiving many hoops

by Jacqueline Keeler (Navajo -Diné/Yankton Dakota Sioux)

I celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving.

This may surprise those people who wonder what Native Americans think of this official U.S. celebration of the survival of early arrivals in a European invasion that culminated in the death of 10 to 30 million native people.

Thanksgiving to me has never been about Pilgrims. When I was six, my mother, a woman of the Dineh nation, told my sister and me not to sing "Land of the Pilgrim's pride" in "America the Beautiful." Our people, she said, had been here much longer and taken much better care of the land. We were to sing "Land of the Indian's pride" instead.

I was proud to sing the new lyrics in school, but I sang softly. It was enough for me to know the difference. At six, I felt I had learned something very important. As a child of a Native American family, you are part of a very select group of survivors, and I learned that my family possessed some "inside" knowledge of what really happened when those poor, tired masses came to our homes.

When the Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock, they were poor and hungry -- half of them died within a few months from disease and hunger. When Squanto, a Wampanoag man, found them, they were in a pitiful state. He spoke English, having traveled to Europe, and took pity on them. Their English crops had failed. The native people fed them through the winter and taught them how to grow their food.

These were not merely "friendly Indians." They had already experienced European slave traders raiding their villages for a hundred years or so, and they were wary -- but it was their way to give freely to those who had nothing. Among many of our peoples, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect. Among the Dakota, my father's people, they say, when asked to give, "Are we not Dakota and alive?" It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all -- the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving.

To the Pilgrims, and most English and European peoples, the Wampanoags were heathens, and of the Devil. They saw Squanto not as an equal but as an instrument of their God to help his chosen people, themselves.

Since that initial sharing, Native American food has spread around the world. Nearly 70 percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American peoples. I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us. Spaghetti without tomatoes? Meat and potatoes without potatoes? And at the "first Thanksgiving" the Wampanoags provided most of the food -- and signed a treaty granting Pilgrims the right to the land at Plymouth, the real reason for the first Thanksgiving.

What did the Europeans give in return? Within 20 years European disease and treachery had decimated the Wampanoags. Most diseases then came from animals that Europeans had domesticated. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, one of the great killers of our people, spread through gifts of blankets used by infected Europeans. Some estimate that diseases accounted for a death toll reaching 90 percent in some Native American communities. By 1623, Mather the elder, a Pilgrim leader, was giving thanks to his God for destroying the heathen savages to make way "for a better growth," meaning his people.

In stories told by the Dakota people, an evil person always keeps his or her heart in a secret place separate from the body. The hero must find that secret place and destroy the heart in order to stop the evil.

I see, in the "First Thanksgiving" story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale than needs to be told. What did it hold? Bigotry, hatred, greed, self-righteousness? We have seen the evil that it caused in the 350 years since. Genocide, environmental devastation, poverty, world wars, racism.

Where is the hero who will destroy that heart of evil? I believe it must be each of us. Indeed, when I give thanks this Thursday and I cook my native food, I will be thinking of this hidden heart and how my ancestors survived the evil it caused.

Because if we can survive, with our ability to share and to give intact, then the evil and the good will that met that Thanksgiving day in the land of the Wampanoag will have come full circle.

And the healing can begin.

(Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux works with the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in Winds of Change, an American Indian journal.)


 Deconstructing the Myth of "The First Thanksgiving"

by Judy Dow (Abenaki) and Beverly Slapin

Judy Dow Thanksgiving Many Hoops    Beverly Slapin Thanksgiving many Hoops

What is it about the story of “The First Thanksgiving" that makes it essential to be taught in virtually every grade from preschool through high school? What is it about the story that is so seductive? Why has it become an annual elementary school tradition to hold Thanksgiving pageants, with young children dressing up in paper-bag costumes and feather-duster headdresses and marching around the schoolyard? Why is it seen as necessary for fake “pilgrims" and fake “Indians" (portrayed by real children, many of whom are Indian) to sit down every year to a fake feast, acting out fake scenarios and reciting fake dialogue about friendship? And why do teachers all over the country continue (for the most part, unknowingly) to perpetuate this myth year after year after year?

Is it because as Americans we have a deep need to believe that the soil we live on and the country on which it is based was founded on integrity and cooperation? This belief would help contradict any feelings of guilt that could haunt us when we look at our role in more recent history in dealing with other indigenous peoples in other countries. If we dare to give up the “myth" we may have to take responsibility for our actions both concerning indigenous peoples of this land as well as those brought to this land in violation of everything that makes us human. The realization of these truths untold might crumble the foundation of what many believe is a true democracy. As good people, can we be strong enough to learn the truths of our collective past? Can we learn from our mistakes? This would be our hope.

We offer these myths and facts to assist students, parents and teachers in thinking critically about this holiday, and deconstructing what we have been taught about the history of this continent and the world. (Note: We have based our “fact" sections in large part on the research, both published and unpublished, that Abenaki scholar Margaret M. Bruchac developed in collaboration with the Wampanoag Indian Program at Plimoth Plantation. We thank Marge for her generosity. We thank Doris Seale and Lakota Harden for their support.)

Myth #1: “The First Thanksgiving" occurred in 1621.

Fact: No one knows when the “first" thanksgiving occurred. People have been giving thanks for as long as people have existed. Indigenous nations all over the world have celebrations of the harvest that come from very old traditions; for Native peoples, thanksgiving comes not once a year, but every day, for all the gifts of life. To refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as “The First Thanksgiving" disappears Indian peoples in the eyes of non-Native children.

Myth #2: The people who came across the ocean on the Mayflower were called Pilgrims.

Fact: The Plimoth settlers did not refer to themselves as “Pilgrims." Pilgrims are people who travel for religious reasons, such as Muslims who make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Most of those who arrived here from England were religious dissidents who had broken away from the Church of England. They called themselves “Saints"; others called them “Separatists." Some of the settlers were “Puritans," dissidents but not separatists who wanted to “purify" the Church. It wasn’t until around the time of the American Revolution that the name “Pilgrims" came to be associated with the Plimoth settlers, and the “Pilgrims" became the symbol of American morality and Christian faith, fortitude, and family. (1)

Myth #3: The colonists came seeking freedom of religion in a new land.

Fact: The colonists were not just innocent refugees from religious persecution. By 1620, hundreds of Native people had already been to England and back, most as captives; so the Plimoth colonists knew full well that the land they were settling on was inhabited. Nevertheless, their belief system taught them that any land that was “unimproved" was “wild" and theirs for the taking; that the people who lived there were roving heathens with no right to the land. Both the Separatists and Puritans were rigid fundamentalists who came here fully intending to take the land away from its Native inhabitants and establish a new nation, their “Holy Kingdom." The Plimoth colonists were never concerned with “freedom of religion" for anyone but themselves. (2)

Myth #4: When the “Pilgrims" landed, they first stepped foot on “Plymouth Rock."

Fact: When the colonists landed, they sought out a sandy inlet in which to beach the little shallop that carried them from the Mayflower to the mainland. This shallop would have been smashed to smithereens had they docked at a rock, especially a Rock. Although the Plimoth settlers built their homes just up the hill from the Rock, William Bradford in Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, does not even mention the Rock; writing only that they “unshipped our shallop and drew her on land." (3) The actual “rock" is a slab of Dedham granodiorite placed there by a receding glacier some 20,000 years ago. It was first referred to in a town surveying record in 1715, almost 100 years after the landing. Since then, the Rock has been moved, cracked in two, pasted together, carved up, chipped apart by tourists, cracked again, and now rests as a memorial to something that never happened. (4)

It’s quite possible that the myth about the “Pilgrims" landing on a “Rock" originated as a reference to the New Testament of the Christian bible, in which Jesus says to Peter, “And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18) The appeal to these scriptures gives credence to the sanctity of colonization and the divine destiny of the dominant culture. Although the colonists were not dominant then, they behaved as though they were.

Myth #5: The Pilgrims found corn.

Fact: Just a few days after landing, a party of about 16 settlers led by Captain Myles Standish followed a Nauset trail and came upon an iron kettle and a cache of Indian corn buried in the sand. They made off with the corn and returned a few days later with reinforcements. This larger group “found" a larger store of corn, about ten bushels, and took it. They also “found" several graves, and, according to Mourt’s Relation, “brought sundry of the prettiest things away" from a child’s grave and then covered up the corpse. They also “found" two Indian dwellings and “some of the best things we took away with us." (5) There is no record that restitution was ever made for the stolen corn, and the Wampanoag did not soon forget the colonists’ ransacking of Indian graves. (6)

Myth #6: Samoset appeared out of nowhere, and along with Squanto became friends with the Pilgrims. Squanto helped the Pilgrims survive and joined them at “The First Thanksgiving."

Fact: Samoset, an eastern Abenaki chief, was the first to contact the Plimoth colonists. He was investigating the settlement to gather information and report to Massasoit, the head sachem in the Wampanoag territory. In his hand, Samoset carried two arrows: one blunt and one pointed. The question to the settlers was: are you friend or foe? Samoset brought Tisquantum (Squanto), one of the few survivors of the original Wampanoag village of Pawtuxet, to meet the English and keep an eye on them. Tisquantum had been taken captive by English captains several years earlier, and both he and Samoset spoke English. Tisquantum agreed to live among the colonists and serve as a translator. Massasoit also sent Hobbamock and his family to live near the colony to keep an eye on the settlement and also to watch Tisquantum, whom Massasoit did not trust. The Wampanoag oral tradition says that Massasoit ordered Tisquantum killed after he tried to stir up the English against the Wampanoag. Massasoit himself lost face after his years of dealing with the English only led to warfare and land grabs. Tisquantum is viewed by Wampanoag people as a traitor, for his scheming against other Native people for his own gain. Massasoit is viewed as a wise and generous leader whose affection for the English may have led him to be too tolerant of their ways. (7)

Myth #7: The Pilgrims invited the Indians to celebrate the First Thanksgiving.

Fact: According to oral accounts from the Wampanoag people, when the Native people nearby first heard the gunshots of the hunting colonists, they thought that the colonists were preparing for war and that Massasoit needed to be informed. When Massasoit showed up with 90 men and no women or children, it can be assumed that he was being cautious. When he saw there was a party going on, his men then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys. (8)

In addition, both the Wampanoag and the English settlers were long familiar with harvest celebrations. Long before the Europeans set foot on these shores, Native peoples gave thanks every day for all the gifts of life, and held thanksgiving celebrations and giveaways at certain times of the year. The Europeans also had days of thanksgiving, marked by religious services. So the coming together of two peoples to share food and company was not entirely a foreign thing for either. But the visit that by all accounts lasted three days was most likely one of a series of political meetings to discuss and secure a military alliance. Neither side totally trusted the other: The Europeans considered the Wampanoag soulless heathens and instruments of the devil, and the Wampanoag had seen the Europeans steal their seed corn and rob their graves. In any event, neither the Wampanoag nor the Europeans referred to this feast/meeting as “Thanksgiving." (9)

Myth #8: The Pilgrims provided the food for their Indian friends.

Fact: It is known that when Massasoit showed up with 90 men and saw there was a party going on, they then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys. Though the details of this event have become clouded in secular mythology, judging by the inability of the settlers to provide for themselves at this time and Edward Winslow’s letter of 1622 (10), it is most likely that Massasoit and his people provided most of the food for this “historic" meal. (11)

Myth #9: The Pilgrims and Indians feasted on turkey, potatoes, berries, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and popcorn.

Fact: Both written and oral evidence show that what was actually consumed at the harvest festival in 1621 included venison (since Massasoit and his people brought five deer), wild fowl, and quite possibly nasaump-dried corn pounded and boiled into a thick porridge, and pompion-cooked, mashed pumpkin. Among the other food that would have been available, fresh fruits such as plums, grapes, berries and melons would have been out of season. It would have been too cold to dig for clams or fish for eels or small fish. There were no boats to fish for lobsters in rough water that was about 60 fathoms deep. There was not enough of the barley crop to make a batch of beer, nor was there a wheat crop. Potatoes and sweet potatoes didn’t get from the south up to New England until the 18th century, nor did sweet corn. Cranberries would have been too tart to eat without sugar to sweeten them, and that’s probably why they wouldn’t have had pumpkin pie, either. Since the corn of the time could not be successfully popped, there was no popcorn. (12)

Myth #10: The Pilgrims and Indians became great friends.

Fact: A mere generation later, the balance of power had shifted so enormously and the theft of land by the European settlers had become so egregious that the Wampanoag were forced into battle. In 1637, English soldiers massacred some 700 Pequot men, women and children at Mystic Fort, burning many of them alive in their homes and shooting those who fled. The colony of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a day of thanksgiving commemorating the massacre. By 1675, there were some 50,000 colonists in the place they had named “New England." That year, Metacom, a son of Massasoit, one of the first whose generosity had saved the lives of the starving settlers, led a rebellion against them. By the end of the conflict known as “King Philip’s War," most of the Indian peoples of the Northeast region had been either completely wiped out, sold into slavery, or had fled for safety into Canada. Shortly after Metacom’s death, Plimoth Colony declared a day of thanksgiving for the English victory over the Indians. (13)

Myth #11: Thanksgiving is a happy time.

Fact: For many Indian people, “Thanksgiving" is a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, extermination of many from disease and gun, and near total destruction of many more from forced assimilation. As currently celebrated in this country, “Thanksgiving" is a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship



The Thanksgiving Myth: Not a Bad Start

Rev. Randy Woodley Thanksgiving Many Hoops

By Rev. Dr. Randy S. Woodley - Keetowah Cherokee Associate Professor of Faith and Culture, Director of Intercultural and Indigenous Studies, George Fox Seminary

The first feast related to our current national holiday, which we call Thanksgiving, was celebrated in either October or November of 1621. The feast included around 50 English Separatists (of Mayflower fame) held at their Plymouth Plantation, and nearly 100 Wampanoag Indians. In addition to Wampanoag oral history, there are just a few original sources for the first Thanksgiving celebration in America but they all seem to agree on several things:

• The Wampanoag, slow to introduce themselves, treated the Pilgrims well when they finally made themselves known to them.

• The Native Americans felt compassion and sympathy for the Pilgrims, sharing their technology. With numerous settlers having died in the winter of 1620, none of the Pilgrims would have likely survived without the Wampanoag teaching them local customs of planting, gathering and preserving foods.

• At that first harvest festival some food was harvested and some hunted. The meals consisted of deer brought by the Wampanoag and foul provided by the settlers (possibly ducks, geese, quail, passenger pigeon, and/or turkey). In addition, the meals probably included walnuts, chestnuts (maybe chestnut bread), seafood (such as lobster, crab, mussels and fish) and whatever had been harvested like corn, beans, pumpkins, other squash, potatoes, sun-chokes, etc. Also present was surely lots of beer since it was the most common drink among the Pilgrims.

• The reason nearly 100 Indians showed up during the English feast that was already in progress, was because the Pilgrims set off a celebratory gun volley and the Wampanoag, who had agreed to a peaceful coexistence with the Pilgrims, thought they were coming to the Pilgrim's aid from an outside attack.

• After arriving and seeing there was not enough food for them all, the Indians hunted five deer (and probably other wild game) and ceremoniously gifted the hosts with their prizes.

• The whole celebration probably lasted for three days.

Beyond the "facts" of history remains the American Myth of Thanksgiving. The myth neglects the rest of the story between English settlers and Indigenous peoples. It presents the "First Thanksgiving" as a template some people would like to lay as a false basis for all Indian-White relations in America. Unfortunately, the attitude of presumed superiority on the part of the English is totally neglected in the myth. The Pilgrim's false claim to have an a priori right to an already occupied land is also missing from the existing myth. Regardless of these other facts, I have to ask, "how many stories do we have in American history of Indigenous peoples and settlers sharing a better start?" Not many.

This year my family and I will celebrate our Thanksgiving somewhat like the first one but on a smaller scale. I'll get up early and smoke a beef brisket (or deer if I get one) and half a turkey, (bake the other half). We will include many of our favorite vegetable dishes from the list above, pick up some seafood (probably mussels) and then add a few pies to the feast like pecan, apple-cranberry and pumpkin. At our home we will host a big table with family and (native and non-native) friends.

Before we eat, we will all sit at the table and each of us will take turns reading the Iroquois Thanksgiving prayer (which is a litany of thanks made for all creation). We will eat (hopefully) for several hours, joke, tell stories and continue to feast throughout the day. Later, we'll all watch the Disney movie Squanto together (until someone makes a better First Thanksgiving movie) and by then, some will have fallen asleep. Over the rest of the weekend many of our guests will stay, snack, joke, watch movies and sports on TV, drink a little beer and sleep. If the weather permits, we will go outside for some games or even just to stretch and give private thanks to Creator during a walk.

I imagine millions of Americans like me will celebrate Thanksgiving in a similar way. Unfortunately, many of my fellow Native Americans who view the holiday as a national day of mourning, will not celebrate Thanksgiving at all. To them, the Thanksgiving Myth amounts to the settler's justification for the genocide of Indigenous peoples and acquiescence to notions of White supremacy. They will once again protest at Plymouth Rock and disseminate stories pointing out the many massacres of Native Americans by the Pilgrims. I don't blame them... but I won't join them either. At least not on Thanksgiving, and here is some of my rationale.

In respect to my Keetoowah ancestors I have over the past several decades, asked myself and others, as we think through our mutual histories, if I should even celebrate Thanksgiving, and if so, how? It is true that the Pilgrims eventually broke the peace with the Wampanoag. Equally true is the fact that those attacks upon the New England tribes, and later hundreds of other tribes across the continent, were often unprovoked, merciless blood-baths enacted upon innocent elders, women and children and motivated by greed for Native American land. This tragic history is true of my own tribe and ancestors as well. The conquest of North America is inexcusable and demands not just an apology, but extensive reparations. The spirit that later fueled the philosophy of Manifest Destiny still continues to oppress Native Americans and others. In spite of our ugly history, no...actually, because of these atrocities, I want to suggest that we all continue to celebrate Thanksgiving, but with a caveat.

Settler folks must be educated to realize that Thanksgiving in America didn't begin with the Pilgrims. For thousands of years many feasts of thanksgiving have been characteristic of all our Indian tribes. This phenomenon continues today. Settler-immigrants should reorient their thinking to view that First Thanksgiving as the first opportunity for them to join millennial old traditions among America's Indigenous peoples to thank God, who was already present before they arrived, and thank the land upon which they were living. They should view the Plymouth feast as the land welcoming them, and as a result an opportunity to express gratitude to all creation, especially those plants and animals that provided the feast and extended their lives another day. They should see themselves as good guest of the Host Peoples of America and rethink their social posture with more humility.

I'm not advocating that Indians replace our current traditional feasts and celebrations with the dominant Thanksgiving holiday, but rather that we add it to our list of current celebrations. Why should we give up any type of festival of thanksgiving? Everything we have comes from the good Mother Earth and the Great Apportioner God. We should always give thanks for everything! I feel our indigenous ancestors would agree with this. Our tribal ancestors woke up every morning and gave thanks to Creator and the land. Our old ones celebrated these days with vigor and gratefulness for life! How then, can I wake up on the day that is designated "Thanksgiving," or any other day for that matter, and not express my gratitude in the best way possible?

Our elders knew that many of the "Christian" settlers did not act like the Jesus whom they claimed to represent. They also knew that in our histories we shared times of peace and friendship that reflected something better than unhappier times. Without ignoring the centuries of injustice, together, we should celebrate those times of friendship and build upon them. After all, isn't the point of a myth to set a good narrative that can be built upon in the present? To me, this is the point of Thanksgiving. It is a time to share stories of both joy and pain and still be thankful for all life. Thanksgiving is a time for us all to share our mutual humanity. If we can use the Thanksgiving holiday as narrative for peace and friendship, then let's build upon that part of the myth without ignoring the historical truth of the big picture.

The holiday can also be used as a grand myth or metaphor of hospitality to the poor, the disenfranchised, the new immigrant and those who we consider "the other." People throughout the whole world who have been the recipients of the devastation brought on by the dominant myth of colonialism and unfair capital theft should be invited to Thanksgiving tables everywhere in order to cultivate new friendships.

As America's Host People, Native Americans are the keepers of the land, that is our sacred duty. Our responsibilities include bringing the land, the people, and the rest of creation back into harmony. Traditionally, we have done this through prayer, ceremony and special festivals. If we are willing, Thanksgiving can be a time of reconciliation and healing of the land. Even though everything within us should compel us to do otherwise, we must begin somewhere. We cannot hate, or even ignore one another and expect to heal the land. By thanking the Creator and showing love to one another, we can actually begin restoring harmony in the land. It can begin with a simple meal.

My family's prayer for all Americans this year is to celebrate and enjoy this time of Thanksgiving. Be thankful and educate yourselves concerning the real history of America and use this time to encourage reconciliation between your family and those who share a different history. By you reaching out to others, this could be an important first step to healing our land and our nation. Please, don't ignore or minimize Thanksgiving, but try embracing the myth as a time for reconciliation and peace. Then later, together, we can all join in the protest of Columbus Day. But that's another story for another day.



Dennis W. Zotigh Kiowa - Pueblo - Dakota Thanksgiving Many Hoops

Dennis W. Zotigh

Writer and Cultural Specialist, Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian

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's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Do American 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.

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 90 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. I turned to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. Here are some of the responses:

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

When they did that 2 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.

Reprinted from the official blog of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.


By Chelsey Luger - Turtle Mountain Chippewa & Standing Rock Lakota

I cringe when I recall this announcement, which my hosts included in each and every introduction between me and their other guests during my first holiday away from home as a Dartmouth College freshman. It wasn’t worth it to fly all the way home to North Dakota for the long weekend, so a group of us went to a dorm-mate’s parents’ house in Connecticut. As much as I still appreciate the family for welcoming me into their lovely home and feeding me copious amounts of expensive food, I have to say that the number of times they felt the need to point out my race to the other guests was... uncomfortable. For me, at least. But hey, I guess it was my first Thanksgiving with a bunch of Whites too, so that was pretty neat. (Long Live the Pilgrims! But where are their fancy bonnets?)

Anyway, the point of this anecdote is to share an example of subtly inappropriate language. I was offended for being made a novelty at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but I was also annoyed by the choice of grammar within the offensive jest. You see, instead of choosing to describe me as a human or person who could be further described as American Indian ("This is Chelsey, and she is Indian"), I was grouped—human plus race—into one noun or object with an indefinite article ("This is Chelsey and she is an Indian." Sounds different, right?)

For the full effect, say it with a southern accent and a hint of fear in your voice, as if I’m thrusting a spear toward your face. “Ahhhh! Look out! It’s an Indian!”

I’m suggesting that we should be careful about nuances in language when describing or discussing individuals of a certain ethnicity or racial background. It’s relevant now, because in the past few months, the Redskins debate has brought a lot of media attention to Native peoples. And from both pro and anti-Indian voices, I see a lot of people—obviously subconsciously—doing the same thing that the Connecticut hosts did to me. Commenters on social media, bloggers, and even writers from legitimate publications are adding the unnecessary indefinite article and dehumanizing us even further: an Indian. What’s the difference, and why does it matter?

It’s a subtlety in language that has the power to evoke varying degrees of respect. The indefinite article (a or an) should of course be used freely when referring to objects - like a candy bar, a book, or an orangutan. But it shouldn’t be used in front of an ethnicity, because it creates a demeaning connotation.

For example:
I wouldn’t say, “This is my friend Daniella and she’s a Jew.” Instead I would say, “This is my friend Daniella, and she is Jewish.”
A tasteful writer wouldn’t say, “I spoke to a Mexican about the event,” they would say, “I spoke to a Mexican man about the event.”
And finally, I would say, “This is my friend Melanie, and she is White,” or “She’s a White person” but never “she’s a White.” (Notice how I did it up there in paragraph one and it sounded disrespectful? Go back and look and tell me you don’t disagree!)

I should acknowledge that there are instances when placing an indefinite article in front of a nationality or other group is fine. For example, “I’m an American.” That, I would say, is appropriate. No negative connotations whatsoever. You might even be able to think of even more exceptions. I can’t right now. That said, I’d just like to reiterate that while being called “an Indian” is nothing that I’m particularly outraged by, it is irritating because it’s one of many ways that the public affords slightly less respect to Native peoples than to other races or ethnic groups. We deal with a host problems regarding objectification and misnomers, so if writers would be a little bit more careful, it would be much appreciated.

Remember: I am Indian, but I am not an Indian.

P.S. The other highlight of the weekend was the part when we were all hanging out in the guest house (these Whites and their innumerable properties—they kill me!) and the father asked if I’d like a drink. I said “No, thanks.” He replied, “Oh I forgot… you’re never supposed to give an Indian whiskey!” I didn’t say anything, but I wish I had responded, “And you, 65-year-old family man and self-declared, well-respected doctor and businessman, should remember that you are breaking both legal and moral codes by offering alcohol to a vulnerable group of 18-year-old co-eds under your care for the weekend.”
Didn’t think to do it.

Chelsey Luger is from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Tribe & Standing Rock Lakota Nation in North Dakota. An alumna of Dartmouth College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she lives in New York City and remains an avid student of global indigenous politics and history. She hopes to play her role as a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for Native health and wellness. Follow her on instagram at chelswhoelse or twitter @CPLuger. (Photo: Eller Bonifacio.)


 Dismantling Thanksgiving myths: a Native American story
Aisha Ali Cherokee Thanksgiving Many Hoops

by Aisha Ali - Cherokee

In my eyes, Thanksgiving has never been about the Pilgrims-- and to many Americans, I question if this is their sole source of celebration, as many people blindly celebrate holidays and have no clue of their history. Although I am sure many people celebrate Thanksgiving as a way to express “thanks,” for me, Thanksgiving serves as another remembrance of how my Native American ancestors were maltreated; annihilated; ousted from their land; and consigned to reservations, eradicating every trace of their pre-existing life.

Thanksgiving rehashes memories of how the hospital staff, in its refusal to treat my great-great grandfather, sent him home to die from pneumonia because he was Native American. Thanksgiving reminds me of how my grandmother had “to pass” as a light-skinned black person to avoid being forced on a reservation. When thinking of Thanksgiving, I recall how my Nation, the Cherokees, was forced from its land in Georgia, leaving a “Trail of Tears.” As I sit around with my family and share thoughts while eating on Thanksgiving, I think of how the very ingredients with which my food was prepared, had been once picked by the hands of my Native American ancestors who served as slaves in North Carolina and the Caribbean. Needless to say, I also think of my African ancestors who toiled away in the fields to pick the very foods with which my food was prepared. America, to me, is not the “Land of Pilgrim’s pride," but should be and is to me, the "Land of Native American pride".

The national holiday, “Thanksgiving,” was not initially created in the way most Americans have come to know it.


The Story of Nacho, the Boy From the Indian Boarding School


It was an old building; the buildings there were all old. Built in the early 1900s, they were red brick. Some would say they were Victorian. This was a three-story building, big and square with peaked roofs from those early days. This was an Indian boarding school with kids from places like Beclabito, Teec Nos Pos, Ute Mountain, White Mesa, Towaoc and Shiprock all going to  school there.

Kids had been going to school there since way back in the early days, so long ago the dormitory aides were old and they had gone to school there as children themselves. Maybe some 300 kids, boys and girls. Some were seniors, some just little ones in the first grade.

There was this one boy, Nacho, who stayed on the ground floor with the little ones. They all slept together in one wing, a large room with iron bunk beds all lined up against the wall. Each child had their own closet to keep their things. Of all the kids there, Nacho was the smallest.

At meal times he was the first in line, to march to the dining hall just a little ways away. When you are first you get the biggest of what they have. Old Man Peacock, an Indian from Oklahoma, was the cook, and he always had the biggest hot dog for Nacho.

It was in the fall, the mountains of Colorado were blue and dull gray. The wind blows cold there in November with winds swirling the leaves up and around and finding a way through coats to let you know the winters are hard in this place, but Nacho liked to go outside and play anyway.

Pino was the main dorm man. He usually sat in his office just inside the main doors and was sort of the captain of the crew working there. His door was always open and the kids would sit on the hard vinyl government couches so common to Indian dorms. He made out work assignments, checked to see who was in the isolation room, which was for sick kids. There were a lot of boys there, all ages and sizes. Oftentimes in such a place the little ones stay around the office, finding something special about it. Each dorm aide or matron worked a eight hour shift or so and then went home.

In such a place you have an unwritten law that that the biggest and toughest do the best; they eventually get everything. The candy parents send their kids, the warmest coats, or maybe favorite comic book or warm blanket and they somehow ended up with the biggest and toughest. These things usually disappeared and went home on the weekend when their parents or relatives checked out kids for home visits. It is hard to keep something private because it is hard to hide some things in a locker, so you usually didn't bring good stuff to the dorm. It is just the way it is. No one can watch their stuff all the time and the big boys pick on the little boys. Some older ones are just bad apples all the way around.

Nacho hung around Pino's office a lot when he was 7 or so. Some say he was part Mexican, because his features looked that way. Some said he didn't know who his father was. His mother had dropped him off at the beginning of the year and left him. She liked to party. He was forgotten.

He wore a red shirt, a pullover kind that he wore every day for a month until some of the dorm aides found him some other clothes. When you looked at him he was just a kid with large, wide eyes and an easy smile. He followed the dorm aides around when they checked the building on their rounds and hung around the basement rec room. Little kids usually sat on the floor, while the big boys took control of the TV. The reception was poor but some of the boys never moved from the vinyl couches all year.

Fridays were busy. After school the kids would pile off the buses and run in the dorm and grab their stuff and wait for the cars and trucks that lined up to check out the kids. People drove windy back roads, some two to three hours from the reservations where they lived, to get their kids. Some parents came every weekend, others every once in a while. Nacho used to wait by the double white doors on the windowsill looking at the people as they came to pick up their kids.

He was always looking for his mom. Maybe this weekend she would be there, but he was always the one who stayed behind, waiting for her.

Thanksgiving was coming around and there were the usual pictures put up around the dorm of pilgrims, walking turkeys and the usual decorations that covered the white plastered walls. Nacho waited and waited and then he couldn't be found.

“Where is he?”



“I don't know, have you checked around for him?”

The dorm aides went through the building. It was Friday and he was gone. The checkout log was checked again and again and his name wasn't on it. They thought that maybe someone who was going home maybe took him along for a visit was discussed and each car was chased down on the back roads headed back to the rez to see if he was there. He was not with any of them.

The wind was blowing and it was cold out. A light snow was beginning to fall and the pine trees had white tips from the snow. There was a straight cut through the mountain to his home. Pino looked at the mountain and thought maybe he had run away.

There were big boys left in the dorm who went out with the staff and they searched the school grounds and found nothing. They went into the small town nearby and checked house to house and he was nowhere. The dorm principal didn't want to report the boy missing to the police because he would have to explain to his boss in Albuquerque through an incident report that a boy had run away. His Christmas bonus would disappear. He told the staff to call in everybody and send out a search party without telling the police.

Lonnie, a big rough and tumble boy from White Mesa; Jimmy King, a Ute wrestler; and Tsosie, a Navajo from Fruitland; all seniors, set out toward the mountain. They lived in the honor dorm, a small building next door to the main building . They wore two coats each and extra clothes. It was getting late in the day when they set out. Pino told them to go up the mountain; he may be trying to make a shortcut home. They followed the old trail; some say the Anasazis from way back used it. Some said that at the high point there was an old ruin and if you built a bonfire there, and one at Mesa Verde, one at Chaco Canyon, and one at Two Gray Hills you could see all four fires on a clear night.

They set out for the ruins. They moved fast, first walking fast and then they began to run, the three of them, walking and then running, outdistancing the dorm staff. They left the staff behind; they knew they had to get up there before the snow really started to fall.

When you are cold in the wet and snow and you walk a long ways through it, you get warm. You can sit in the snow and not feel cold at all and then you get tired and lay down in it. It is warm and you can go to sleep. When you sleep like that in the snow, you never wake up. It is what happens to runaways who take off in the winter.

They ran and ran up hill like they had never run before, pacing themselves for the long distance. It was as if it was in the old days. They spoke to each other in a way to keep themselves moving. Through the pine trees and forest valleys and thickets of scrub oak. There are trees where they used to gather pinons and a stream they crossed. They kept going up and up.

In the clearing they saw the the old ruins.  In there were places where the rooms were small and painted white from centuries ago. Nacho liked the place; it was what he talked about.  The people who lived in such a place, where they lived so close together, many families and the kids must have had so much to do and see there. He wanted to know what it would be like to be part of such a people, families like that? He sometimes spoke about it when he looked up at the mountain.

In the quiet of the night, in a room not too far from the kiva, they found him. He was curled up and by himself. His clothes were all wet and he was only wearing a thin coat. The room was small, painted white and maybe five feet high and five feet wide, and not so dark. He was in the corner, slumped over.

They went up to him and saw he was sleeping. The three big boys covered him with their extra coats. Then they built a fire, with wood gathered under the bottom of the pines, squaw wood, the white people call it, because it is dry to the touch and easy to burn and requires no axe.

Then a small banquet of foodstuffs came from their pockets. A small block of cheese, marshmallows, some blue cornmeal bread, a tin of Spam and some of Peacock's biscuits. They made wild tea, and gathered the remnants of chilchin (red buffalo berries) and made a feast. When Nacho woke up, he was surprised to see them there.

“I just wanted to go home for Thanksgiving.”

“We know….we know.”


The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

Michele Tirado Osage Thanksgiving Many Hoops

by Michele Tirado - Osage Nation

published in Indian Country Today

November 22, 2011

Too often the story of the 1621 Thanksgiving is told from the Pilgrims’ point of view, and when the Wampanoag, who partook in this feast too, are included, it is usually in a brief or distorted way. In search of the Native American perspective, we looked to Plymouth, where the official first Thanksgiving took place and where today the Wampanoag side of the story can be found.

Plimoth Plantation is one of Plymouth’s top attractions and probably the place to go for the first Thanksgiving story. It is a living museum, with its replica 17th century Wampanoag Homesite, a representation of the homesite used by Hobbamock, who served as emissary between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, and staffed by 23 Native Americans, mostly Wampanoag; 17th century English Village; and the Mayflower II, a replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth.

According to a Plimoth Plantation timeline, the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620. The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village abandoned four years prior after a deadly outbreak of a plague, brought by European traders who first appeared in the area in 1616. The museum’s literature tells that before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

And yet, when the Wampanoag watched the Mayflower’s passengers come ashore at Patuxet, they did not see them as a threat. “The Wampanoag had seen many ships before,” explained Tim Turner, Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours. “They had seen traders and fishermen, but they had not seen women and children before. In the Wampanoag ways, they never would have brought their women and children into harm. So, they saw them as a peaceful people for that reason.”

This statue of Wampanoag leader Massasoit is in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Courtesy Native Plymouth Tours)

But they did not greet them right away either. The English, in fact, did not see the Wampanoag that first winter at all, according to Turner. “They saw shadows,” he said. Samoset, a Monhegan from Maine, came to the village on March 16, 1621. The next day, he returned with Tisquantum (Squanto), a Wampanoag who befriended and helped the English that spring, showing them how to plant corn, fish and gather berries and nuts. That March, the Pilgrims entered into a treaty of mutual protection with Ousamequin (Massasoit), the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader.

Turner said what most people do not know about the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did not sit down for a big turkey dinner and it was not an event that the Wampanoag knew about or were invited to in advance. In September/October 1621, the Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They “sent four men on fowling,” which comes from the one paragraph account by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.” “Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said. “So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”

When the Wampanoag showed up, they were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town [William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well. When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,” said Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.

The harvest feast lasted for three days. What did they eat? Venison, of course, and Wall said, “Not just a lovely roasted joint of venison, but all the parts of the deer were on the table in who knows how many sorts of ways.” Was there turkey? “Fowl” is mentioned in Winslow’s account, which puts turkey on Wall’s list of possibilities. She also said there probably would have been a variety of seafood and water fowl along with maize bread, pumpkin and other squashes. “It was nothing at all like a modern Thanksgiving,” she said.

While today Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s favorite holidays, it has a far different meaning for many Wampanoag, who now number between 4,000 and 5,000. Turner said, “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.”

At noon on every Thanksgiving Day, hundreds of Native people from around the country gather at Cole's Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, for the National Day of Mourning. It is an annual tradition started in 1970, when Wampanoag Wamsutta (Frank) James was invited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give a speech at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival and then disinvited after the event organizers discovered his speech was one of outrage over the “atrocities” and “broken promises” his people endured.

On the Wampanoag welcoming and having friendly relations with the Pilgrims, James wrote in his undelivered speech: “This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”

Link to this article: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/11/22/wampanoag-side-first-thanksgiving-story-64076