What Native Americans Want You To Know About Thanksgiving This Holiday

Thanksgiving is arguably the most important holiday of the year for most Americans, but it’s not a day to celebrate for everyone.

For many Native American tribes across the country, the day is a day of mourning and reflection.

But for some, Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to raise awareness of issues affecting Native Americans, as well as the “backstory of what really happened to start a colony,” according to Mashpee Wampanoag’s wife, Paula Peters.

“The holiday is based on real mythology surrounding the first Thanksgiving,” she says news week.

Native American woman closeup photo
A woman with face paint looks on during the National Day of Mourning, on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2021, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Thanksgiving is not a celebration for all Native Americans.
Bryan R Smith/AFP

“We see this as an opportunity to educate people about the true story of the holiday … and our experience of injustice that continues as there are so many different issues facing tribes across the country.”

Thanksgiving – the annual holiday observed on the fourth Thursday of November – is popularly said to have started when pilgrims from England joined the Native Americans they met to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

The first three-day harvest celebration, held in Plymouth Colony in modern-day Massachusetts in 1621, is considered the first American Thanksgiving, according to Dennis Zotigh in the Smithsonian Magazine.

The colonizers—commonly known as pilgrims—came aboard the 1620s mayflower who arrived in what is now Provincetown Harbor after fleeing religious persecution in England.

They were taught by the local Wampanoag tribe how to harvest and hunt the land because they did not have enough food, and later they were also taught how to cook the harvested food.

This happened in the autumn of 1621, where they gathered for a feast of wild turkeys, ducks, geese, fish and shellfish, corn, green vegetables and dried fruits to celebrate the successful harvest.

But the concept of giving thanks for a bountiful harvest was not pioneered by the newcomers to New England, but by Native Americans who “saw every day [as] a day of thanksgiving to the Creator,” says Zotig.

Adds Peters, “They took a poetic liberty with this story, since there was never an invitation for the Wampanoag to come to a feast with them.”

“It was more of an incidental awareness because the colonists celebrating their own harvest had fired muskets, which was their way of celebrating something, and it caught the attention of the Wampanoag, who were threatened by it.”

According to Peters, the tribe then came down with bows and arrows to inspect if they were in danger, and “somehow their fears were allayed and smoothed, and they spent three days with the pilgrims afterwards”.

“But it wasn’t an invitation to their neighbors who helped them survive,” she explains.

While not all Native Americans are a monolith that shares the same relationship with the modern Thanksgiving holiday — some choose to celebrate it or use it as an opportunity to spend time with family — many across the country commemorate it as a national day of mourning.

Peters explains this because the date 102 Pilgrims arrived in New England marks the beginning of the “colonial era” which is “literally carved in stone at Plymouth Waterfall, the national monument dedicated to the arrival of the Pilgrims.”

They mark this day as a symbol of the injustices faced by Native Americans when Christopher Columbus first set foot on the continent in 1492, many of which continue to this day.

“It’s a date that talks about kidnappings [people] who never came back, abductions by aborigines who were taken to Europe, sold into slavery and paraded around the streets of London as a curiosity,” says Peters

Then there were the diseases that the Europeans brought with them to which the Native Americans were not immune.

Europeans created an epidemic of diseases such as smallpox, measles, influenza, and cholera that became known as “The Great Dying.”

War, slavery and disease are said to have claimed the lives of an estimated 12 million Native Americans between 1492 and 1900, according to David Michael Smith of the University of Houston-Downtown.

To celebrate the day, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will go to a location near Plymouth Rock to perform ceremonies, which they keep private, but it’s a time when they can “spend time honoring the sacrifices of our… ancestors and to recognize the injustices that continue to this day across the Indian land.”

“And then we get together as a family, that’s how we spend the day,” adds Peters.

https://www.newsweek.com/thanksgiving-native-american-tribes-pilgrims-1762179 What Native Americans Want You To Know About Thanksgiving This Holiday

Rick Schindler

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