When faced with the endless invites to “celebrate” and countless “Happy Thanksgiving” emails, forwards and IMs, I’ve been responding with all of the above and including my wish for what people would do with this day, at the very least. To take a moment of silence to consider how we wound up sitting here on this land, which clearly was not procured in any honest, friendly fashion and to please teach their children the facts, as opposed to the absolutely insane and untrue cartoon-like version they’re taught in their elementary school social studies classes.
“Teaching About Thanksgiving”
Dr. Frank B. Brouillet
Superintendent of Public Instruction
State of Washington
Division of Instructional Programs and Services
Warren H. Burton
Office for Multicultural and Equity Education
Dr. Willard E. Bill
Supervisor of Indian Education
Originally written and developed by
Cathy Ross, Mary Robertson, Chuck Larsen, and Roger Fernandes
Indian Education, Highline School District
With an introduction by:
Tacoma School District
Printed: September, 1986
Reprinted: May, 1987
AN INTRODUCTION FOR TEACHERS
This is a particularly difficult introduction to
write. I have been a public schools teacher for twelve
years, and I am also a historian and have written several
books on American and Native American history. I also just
happen to be Quebeque French, Metis, Ojibwa, and Iroquois.
Because my Indian ancestors were on both sides of the
struggle between the Puritans and the New England Indians
and I am well versed in my cultural heritage and history
both as an Anishnabeg (Algokin) and Hodenosione (Iroquois),
it was felt that I could bring a unique insight to the
For an Indian, who is also a school teacher,
Thanksgiving was never an easy holiday for me to deal with
in class. I sometimes have felt like I learned too much
about “the Pilgrims and the Indians.” Every year I have
been faced with the professional and moral dilemma of just
how to be honest and informative with my children at
Thanksgiving without passing on historical distortions, and
racial and cultural stereotypes.
The problem is that part of what you and I learned in
our own childhood about the “Pilgrims” and “Squanto” and
the “First Thanksgiving” is a mixture of both history and
myth. But the THEME of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity
far above and beyond what we and our forebearers have made
of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story
of the founding of the Plymouth Plantation.
So what do we teach to our children? We usually pass
on unquestioned what we all received in our own childhood
classrooms. I have come to know both the truths and the
myths about our “First Thanksgiving,” and I feel we need to
try to reach beyond the myths to some degree of historic
truth. This text is an attempt to do this.
At this point you are probably asking, “What is the
big deal about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims?” “What does
this guy mean by a mixture of truths and myth?” That is
just what this introduction is all about. I propose that
there may be a good deal that many of us do not know about
our Thanksgiving holiday and also about the “First
Thanksgiving” story. I also propose that what most of us
have learned about the Pilgrims and the Indians who were at
the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation is only part
of the truth. When you build a lesson on only half of the
information, then you are not teaching the whole truth.
That is why I used the word myth. So where do you start to
find out more about the holiday and our modern stories
about how it began?
A good place to start is with a very important book,
“The Invasion of America,” by Francis Jennings. It is a
very authoritative text on the settlement of New England
and the evolution of Indian/White relations in the New
England colonies. I also recommend looking up any good text
on British history. Check out the British Civil War of
1621-1642, Oliver Cromwell, and the Puritan uprising of
1653 which ended parliamentary government in England until
1660. The history of the Puritan experience in New England
really should not be separated from the history of the
Puritan experience in England. You should also realize that
the “Pilgrims” were a sub sect, or splinter group, of the
Puritan movement. They came to America to achieve on this
continent what their Puritan bretheran continued to strive
for in England; and when the Puritans were forced from
England, they came to New England and soon absorbed the
As the editor, I have read all the texts listed in our
bibliography, and many more, in preparing this material for
you. I want you to read some of these books. So let me use
my editorial license to deliberately provoke you a little.
When comparing the events stirred on by the Puritans in
England with accounts of Puritan/Pilgrim activities in New
England in the same era, several provocative things suggest
1. The Puritans were not just simple religious
conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church
of England for their unorthodox beliefs. They were
political revolutionaries who not only intended to
overthrow the government of England, but who actually
did so in 1649.
2. The Puritan “Pilgrims” who came to New England were not
simply refugees who decided to “put their fate in God’s
hands” in the “empty wilderness” of North America, as a
generation of Hollywood movies taught us. In any culture
at any time, settlers on a frontier are most often
outcasts and fugitives who, in some way or other, do not
fit into the mainstream of their society. This is not to
imply that people who settle on frontiers have no
redeeming qualities such as bravery, etc., but that the
images of nobility that we associate with the Puritans
are at least in part the good “P.R.” efforts of later
writers who have romanticized them.(1) It is also very
plausible that this unnaturally noble image of the
Puritans is all wrapped up with the mythology of “Noble
Civilization” vs. “Savagery.”(2) At any rate, mainstream
Englishmen considered the Pilgrims to be deliberate
religious dropouts who intended to found a new nation
completely independent from non-Puritan England. In 1643
the Puritan/Pilgrims declared themselves an independent
confederacy, one hundred and forty-three years before
the American Revolution. They believed in the imminent
occurrence of Armegeddon in Europe and hoped to
establish here in the new world the “Kingdom of God”
foretold in the book of Revelation. They diverged from
their Puritan brethren who remained in England only in
that they held little real hope of ever being able to
successfully overthrow the King and Parliament and,
thereby, impose their “Rule of Saints” (strict Puritan
orthodoxy) on the rest of the British people. So they
came to America not just in one ship (the Mayflower) but
in a hundred others as well, with every intention of
taking the land away from its native people to build
their prophesied “Holy Kingdom.”(3)
3. The Pilgrims were not just innocent refugees from
religious persecution. They were victims of bigotry in
England, but some of them were themselves religious
bigots by our modern standards. The Puritans and the
Pilgrims saw themselves as the “Chosen Elect” mentioned
in the book of Revelation. They strove to “purify” first
themselves and then everyone else of everything they did
not accept in their own interpretation of scripture.
Later New England Puritans used any means, including
deceptions, treachery, torture, war, and genocide to
achieve that end.(4) They saw themselves as fighting a
holy war against Satan, and everyone who disagreed with
them was the enemy. This rigid fundamentalism was
transmitted to America by the Plymouth colonists, and it
sheds a very different light on the “Pilgrim” image we
have of them. This is best illustrated in the written
text of the Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plymouth in
1623 by “Mather the Elder.” In it, Mather the Elder gave
special thanks to God for the devastating plague of
smallpox which wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag
Indians who had been their benefactors. He praised God
for destroying “chiefly young men and children, the very
seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way
for a better growth”, i.e., the Pilgrims.(5) In as much
as these Indians were the Pilgrim’s benefactors, and
Squanto, in particular, was the instrument of their
salvation that first year, how are we to interpret this
apparent callousness towards their misfortune?
4. The Wampanoag Indians were not the “friendly savages”
some of us were told about when we were in the primary
grades. Nor were they invited out of the goodness of the
Pilgrims’ hearts to share the fruits of the Pilgrims’
harvest in a demonstration of Christian charity and
interracial brotherhood. The Wampanoag were members of
a widespread confederacy of Algonkian-speaking peoples
known as the League of the Delaware. For six hundred
years they had been defending themselves from my other
ancestors, the Iroquois, and for the last hundred years
they had also had encounters with European fishermen and
explorers but especially with European slavers, who had
been raiding their coastal villages.(6) They knew
something of the power of the white people, and they did
not fully trust them. But their religion taught that
they were to give charity to the helpless and
hospitality to anyone who came to them with empty
hands.(7) Also, Squanto, the Indian hero of the
Thanksgiving story, had a very real love for a British
explorer named John Weymouth, who had become a second
father to him several years before the Pilgrims arrived
at Plymouth. Clearly, Squanto saw these Pilgrims as
Weymouth’s people.(8) To the Pilgrims the Indians were
heathens and, therefore, the natural instruments of the
Devil. Squanto, as the only educated and baptized
Christian among the Wampanoag, was seen as merely an
instrument of God, set in the wilderness to provide for
the survival of His chosen people, the Pilgrims. The
Indians were comparatively powerful and, therefore,
dangerous; and they were to be courted until the next
ships arrived with more Pilgrim colonists and the
balance of power shifted. The Wampanoag were actually
invited to that Thanksgiving feast for the purpose of
negotiating a treaty that would secure the lands of the
Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims. It should also be
noted that the INDIANS, possibly out of a sense of
charity toward their hosts, ended up bringing the
majority of the food for the feast.(9)
5. A generation later, after the balance of power had
indeed shifted, the Indian and White children of that
Thanksgiving were striving to kill each other in the
genocidal conflict known as King Philip’s War. At the
end of that conflict most of the New England Indians
were either exterminated or refugees among the French in
Canada, or they were sold into slavery in the Carolinas
by the Puritans. So successful was this early trade in
Indian slaves that several Puritan ship owners in Boston
began the practice of raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa
for black slaves to sell to the proprietary colonies of
the South, thus founding the American-based slave
Obviously there is a lot more to the story of
Indian/Puritan relations in New England than in the
thanksgiving stories we heard as children. Our contemporary
mix of myth and history about the “First” Thanksgiving at
Plymouth developed in the 1890s and early 1900Our
country was desperately trying to pull together its many
diverse peoples into a common national identity. To many
writers and educators at the end of the last century and
the beginning of this one, this also meant having a common
national history. This was the era of the “melting pot”
theory of social progress, and public education was a major
tool for social unity. It was with this in mind that the
federal government declared the last Thursday in November
as the legal holiday of Thanksgiving in 1898.
In consequence, what started as an inspirational bit
of New England folklore, soon grew into the full-fledged
American Thanksgiving we now know. It emerged complete with
stereotyped Indians and stereotyped Whites, incomplete
history, and a mythical significance as our “First
Thanksgiving.” But was it really our FIRST American
Now that I have deliberately provoked you with some
new information and different opinions, please take the
time to read some of the texts in our bibliography. I want
to encourage you to read further and form your own
opinions. There really is a TRUE Thanksgiving story of
Plymouth Plantation. But I strongly suggest that there
always has been a Thanksgiving story of some kind or other
for as long as there have been human beings. There was also
a “First” Thanksgiving in America, but it was celebrated
thirty thousand years ago.(11) At some time during the New
Stone Age (beginning about ten thousand years ago)
Thanksgiving became associated with giving thanks to God
for the harvests of the land. Thanksgiving has always been
a time of people coming together, so thanks has also been
offered for that gift of fellowship between us all. Every
last Thursday in November we now partake in one of the
OLDEST and most UNIVERSAL of human celebrations, and THERE
ARE MANY THANKSGIVING STORIES TO TELL.
As for Thanksgiving week at Plymouth Plantation in
1621, the friendship was guarded and not always sincere,
and the peace was very soon abused. But for three days in
New England’s history, peace and friendship were there.
So here is a story for your children. It is as kind
and gentle a balance of historic truth and positive
inspiration as its writers and this editor can make it out
to be. I hope it will adequately serve its purpose both for
you and your students, and I also hope this work will
encourage you to look both deeper and farther, for
Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving all around the world.
Tacoma Public Schools
FOOTNOTES FOR TEACHER INTRODUCTION
(1) See Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., “The White Man’s
Indian,” references to Puritans, pp. 27, 80-85, 90, 104,
(2) See Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., “The White Man’s
Indian,” references to frontier concepts of savagery in
index. Also see Jennings, Francis, “The Invasion of
America,” the myth of savagery, pp. 6-12, 15-16, & 109-110.
(3) See Blitzer, Charles, “Age of Kings,” Great Ages
of Man series, references to Puritanism, pp. 141, 144 &
145-46. Also see Jennings, Francis, “The Invasion of
America,” references to Puritan human motives, pp. 4-6, 43-
44 and 53.
(4) See “Chronicles of American Indian Protest,” pp.
6-10. Also see Armstrong, Virginia I., “I Have Spoken,”
reference to Cannonchet and his village, p. 6. Also see
Jennings, Francis, “The Invasion of America,” Chapter 9
“Savage War,” Chapter 13 “We must Burn Them,” and Chapter
17 “Outrage Bloody and Barbarous.”
(5) See “Chronicles of American Indian Protest,” pp.
6-9. Also see Berkhofer, Jr., R.F., “The White Man’s
Indian,” the comments of Cotton Mather, pp. 37 & 82-83.
(6) See Larsen, Charles M., “The Real Thanksgiving,”
pp. 3-4. Also see Graff, Steward and Polly Ann, “Squanto,
Indian Adventurer.” Also see “Handbook of North American
Indians,” Vol. 15, the reference to Squanto on p. 82.
(7) See Benton-Banai, Edward, “The Mishomis Book,” as
a reference on general “Anishinabe” (the Algonkin speaking
peoples) religious beliefs and practices. Also see Larsen,
Charles M., “The Real Thanksgiving,” reference to religious
life on p. 1.
(8) See Graff, Stewart and Polly Ann, “Squanto, Indian
Adventurer.” Also see Larsen, Charles M., “The Real
Thanksgiving.” Also see Bradford, Sir William, “Of Plymouth
Plantation,” and “Mourt’s Relation.”
(9) See Larsen, Charles M., “The Real Thanksgiving,”
the letter of Edward Winslow dated 1622, pp. 5-6.
(10) See “Handbook of North American Indians,” Vol.
15, pp. 177-78. Also see “Chronicles of American Indian
Protest,” p. 9, the reference to the enslavement of King
Philip’s family. Also see Larsen, Charles, M., “The Real
Thanksgiving,” pp. 8-11, “Destruction of the Massachusetts
(11) Best current estimate of the first entry of
people into the Americas confirmed by archaeological
evidence that is datable.
Thanksgiving Day Celebrates A Massacre
Research compiled, October 19, 1990
by Johyn Westcott and Paul Apidaca
William B. Newell,
a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the
Anthropology department at the University of Connecticut, says
that the first official Thanksgiving Day celebrated the massacre of
700 Indian men, women and children during one of their religious
ceremonies. “Thanksgiving Day” was first proclaimed
by the Governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637
to commemorate the massacre of 700 men, women and children
who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance…Thanksgiving
Day to the, “in their own house”, Newell stated.
“Gathered in this place of meeting, they were attacked by mercenaries
and English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from the building and
as they came forth were shot down, The rest were burned alive in the
building—–The very next day the governor declared a Thanksgiving
Day…..For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by
a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thinking God that the
battle had been won.”
In June 1637 John Underhill slaughtered a pequot village in just the
manner described above. Narranganset Indians were used as the
mercenaries. Governor John Endicott of the Massachusetts Bay
Colony proclaimed the pequot war. A pequot chief of sachem named
sassacus warred against the Dutch in 1633 over the death of his father.
The pequot made no distinction between the Dutch and the English.
The Underhill massacre was witnessed and documented by William
Branford and an engraving was made illustration the massacre.
The Jamestown Colony may be the source for the tradition of Indians
under the leadership of Powhaton joining with early settlers for a
dinner and helping those settlers through the winter. There were no
pilgrims of puritans at Jamestown, however. The present Thanksgiving
may therefore be a mixture of the tradition of the Jamestown dinner
and the commemoration of the Pequot massacre.
The celebration of Thanksgiving as an official holiday
possibly roots in the Pequot massacre, while the imagery
is of Jamestown with pilgrims are misused.
The Northern California Indian Development Council is a
non-profit organization that helps meet the social, educational,
and economic development needs of American Indian communities.
Still More to Ponder…..
In the 50s and 60s we were taught in school many issues regarding Russia that were presented in a horrifying manner. Among those issues was the way Russia practiced historical revisionism and censorship so that they were always the martyred heroes in their squeaky clean society. Today I pick up a paper or turn on news radio and find the same on American soil, realizing now in my older wisdom that this is how it’s always been. I hope that our general population will stop being led like sheep and one day open their eyes. I hope that we can truly change.
Local Indians Reminded of American Holocaust on Thanksgiving
Posted on November 20, 2007
By ANJU KAUR, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – The iconic Thanksgiving image of colonists and Indians sharing a feast has become the symbol of caring and cooperation among peoples, but for many Native Americans it is a reminder of betrayal, bloodshed and continuing discrimination.
“It’s a day of mourning,” said William Redwing Tayac, chief of one of Maryland’s indigenous tribes, the Piscataway Indian Nation. “Indians are victims of the American holocaust. That’s the truth. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture.”
The popular conception of the first Thanksgiving of 1621 is a myth, he said. Indians taught colonists how to farm and survive in the new frontier, only to be burned at the stake several years later as the first victims of the Salem witch trials, Tayac said. The tribes of Massachusetts still have demonstrations on Thanksgiving.
Tayac pays tribute to his people on Thanksgiving Day. He fasts during the day with his family and performs a sacred harvest ceremony before sitting down to dinner in the evening. If they have turkey, that’s just because it’s traditional Indian food, he said.
His fight for his people continues well beyond the holiday. Tayac is involved in a “de-anglization” program that takes assimilated American Indians and “brings them back to being Indians,” he said. They are taught the culture, religion, history and traditions of their people.
Joseph Stands With Many, a Cherokee Indian from Baltimore, is not as angry about Thanksgiving as Tayac.
“Once a year people think about Indians then they forget about them,” said Stands With Many. “Some people are militant and get bitter during Thanksgiving. I don’t believe in holding on to things like that.”
But some things still irritate him.
“Why does American Indian Heritage Month have to be in November?” he asked. And why do people use those cut-out decorations of Indians and Pilgrims?
“No one wants to believe that it is offensive,” he said. “It continues the subliminal stereotype.”
Stands With Many has complained about those decorations at his son’s school, but the school board has refused to take them off the walls.
He has turned his frustration into an education opportunity — giving up his 9-to-5 job to tell Cherokee stories to elementary school children, including a performance last year at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington.
Giving thanks is a cycle of ceremonies for Stands With Many and his family. It begins with the planting season and ends with the harvest. But Thanksgiving Day is usually spent with his mother.
“Last year Mom and I went to McDonalds,” he said. “Sometimes we have Chinese food.”
Desiree Shelley’s family has observed Thanksgiving for generations, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand the protests of fellow Indians who don’t.
A native of Baltimore, Shelley has roots in the Monacan tribe of Virginia. Her father is part Monacan, a tribe that was “Christianized” shortly after the Jamestown colonization in the early 1600s, she said.
“Even if some American Indians celebrate (the holiday), there is a prevailing feeling of hurt for a lot of people,” Shelley said. “We have all been assimilated and colonized. We have lost our history, our language and our culture. What do you expect?”
Thanksgiving has little meaning for Shelley. It’s just a day to get together with family and have a nice meal, she said.
“The concept is not inherently bad,” she added. “I wouldn’t want to get rid of it.”
As president of the American Indian Student Union at the University of Maryland, Shelley, too, wants to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to educate.
She unsuccessfully tried to find grant money this year for education outreach to elementary and middle school children, but she is looking at other opportunities for next year that would redress the American Indian experience.
It is the historical distortions, the cultural stereotypes and general ignorance about indigenous peoples that makes Thanksgiving somewhat revolting to American Indians, said Keith Colston, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs. Most do not celebrate Thanksgiving. If they do, it’s not based on today’s thoughts and ideas about the holiday, he said.
“For me personally, it is another day to get together with friends and family,” said Colston, a member of the Tuscarora-Lumbee tribe of North Carolina.
But for everyone who does celebrate it, he advised: “People should know the historical background of the holidays they celebrate. Native Americans shared a feast with the Pilgrims and gave thanks for the bounty of food and for each other’s company. But Thanksgiving after that was a betrayal.”
November 26, 2007
American Indians Celebrate Resistance
Return to Alacatraz
By BRENDA NORRELL
With the prayers, blessings and dances of the Shingle Springs Rancheria Miwok, Pomo, Pitt River and Calpullies, the Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering began, after 3,500 people crossed on boats to Alcatraz Island before first light.
With the scent of sage filling the dawn air, the Ohlone People were honored for their long struggle to recover their traditional homelands here and the Pitt River people for their ongoing efforts to protect the sacred water and land in what is now called northern California.
With a roaring fire in the center, the prayers began at first light. Anna Marie Sayers of the Ohlone people was among the Native women honored.
Radley Davis, Pitt River Nation, asked those gathered to greet the rising sun. “Wherever you are at, turn around and greet the sun. It is still coming, when you see it, say ‘hello.’
“Remember each of you is spirit,” Davis said. “Our Creator is a caring Creator, we are all special.”
Davis urged everyone gathered to discover who they are and the reason that they have been brought into life, remembering that life is sacred and all is spirit.
“When you see the sun, wash your body, your spirit, wash your life.” Davis said, “Ask the Great Maker to help you find out about your life.”
The Shellmound walkers, who have been offering prayers at the Shellmounds, asked that others join them in prayer for the ancestors and all Indigenous Peoples. While pointing out the recent oil spill here, they asked to remember the winged-ones, four legged and fishes hurt by the spill. They asked for the cleansing of the San Francisco Bay, while celebrating the survival of Native people.
Bill Means, cofounder of the International Indian Treaty Council, said the gathering on Thursday, Nov. 22, is a continuum in the legacy of the people.
“We consider it relighting the fire of Indian survival, Indian resistance here in this hemisphere. To remind people that first of all, John Wayne didn’t kill us all. That we’re still alive, distinct cultures that are thriving here in America.”
Means said the people came today to remember the Hopi imprisoned here at Alcatraz who refused to cut their hair, send their children to US government boarding school or become colonized as US citizens. Nineteen Hopi men from Oraibi returned home to their village in September, 1895, after spending nearly a year imprisoned on Alcatraz Island.
“They brought them here to break their resistance,” Means said.
“The only good Indian was a dead Indian.”
Means pointed out that the first so-called Thanksgiving was a celebration of the murder of the Mashantucket Pequots who greeted the Europeans who came to this land. Now, however, the people can look for inspiration to Indian people like Richard Oakes, among the leaders of the occupation of Alcatraz.
Oakes, Mohawk, brought this message: “Enough is enough!” Means said there is also inspiration in the new leaders of governments in South America, including Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Means, master of ceremonies at the Indigenous Peoples’ Border Summit of the Americas in San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation in November, also remembered the Indigenous Peoples walking and dying at the border of the United States and Mexico.
“All they want is a drink of water,” he said of those walking and dying of dehydration.
Means also remembered Floyd Red Crow Westerman, hospitalized with serious health problems. Means asked that Westerman be remembered in prayers. He said if it is time for Westerman to make the journey, pray for that. But if the Creator wants to leave him here a little longer, Means said that would be good for the people and the struggles that Westerman has spent his life fighting for.
Darrell Standing Elk joined others to lead the AIM Song for Westerman.
Janice Gardipe, Paiute-Shoshone, said there is a great struggle underway to protect Indian homelands from the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Western Shoshone territory.
“Where are our warriors,” Gardipe asked, urging American Indians to come and support the struggle to protect the sacred lands.
Munyiga Lumumba, organizer for the All American Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, urged those gathered to reject whatever the capitalist US government and media is telling them. Lumumba urged the crowd to take down the imperialism, including Israel’s action to destroy Palestine. On the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons, he said America has no right, and certainly no moral ground to stand on, to tell the governments of the world what to do.
“The enemy doesn’t lie some of the time, the enemy lies all of the time.”
Joining organizer Jimbo Simmons of the International Indian Treaty Council, Tony Gonzales said it was reassuring to know that future generations of Indian people will be assured because of the actions here in the occupation of Alcatraz Island, which began in 1969.
Bringing to a conclusion the ceremony, on the day when others in America celebrate the Thanksgiving of colonizers, Arigon Starr, Kickapoo from Oklahoma, sang the lyrics, “This is Indian land forever,” followed by, “We will take the Rock.”
Brenda Norrell is human rights editor for U.N. OBSERVER & International Report. She also runs the Censored website. She can be reached at: email@example.com
American Indians harbors many traditions, opinions on Thanksgiving
By: Louis Jones
Each year, members of the Wampanoag Indian tribe and their supporters gather at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Mass. for the National Day of Mourning. The holiday occurs on the third Thursday of November, the same day as Thanksgiving, and it was started in 1970 by the United American Indians of New England in honor of American Indian people and their struggles, according to the UAINE mission statement.
The American Indian attendees of the National Day of Mourning spend Thanksgiving day protesting the oppression and genocide their culture experienced at the hands of European settlers. But not all American Indians feel the need to protest Thanksgiving, and perspectives on the holiday vary greatly among American Indian tribes, nations and indviduals, Kenan Metzger, Ball State University professor of English, said. Metzger is of Hochungra, Cherokee and German descent.
“It’s important to get the voices of many Indians on the issue,” Metzger said. “There’s no monolothic American Indian culture or perspective.”
Colleen Boyd, coordinator of the Native American studies minor at Ball State, celebrates Thanksgiving with her husband, John, who is an American Indian from the Pacific Northwest, and their children, she said.
“We still do Thanksgiving dinner, but the food we cook is politically selected,” Boyd said.
For Thanksgiving dinner, Boyd’s family tries to eat only foods that were cultivated in the Americas, she said. Foods indigenous to the Americas include potatoes, corn, beans, squash and tomatoes, and these foods were not available in any other part of the world before the Americas were settled by Europeans.
“We used it as an opportunity to educate our children,” Boyd said. “Because we had to figure all this out, it means more because we all have an investment in it.”
Elizabeth Nesbitt, instructor of English at Ball State, said Thanksgiving fits well into many American Indian traditions.
“It just depends on the family and the people,” Nesbitt said. “Some tribal people are still very isolated, but any opportunity for Native Americans to get together and celebrate and be with family, they usually take it.”
Giving thanks is a big part of Native American culture,” Nesbitt said. “If you hunt or take something, you leave something else behind.”
In his book, “Mayflower,” published this year, Nathaniel Philbrick explores a little known fact: The Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians who met at Plymouth Rock in 1621 went to war with each other in 1675.
Many American Indian students Metzger has taught were ignorant to the historical context of Thanksgiving, he said.
“I think the ignorance is probably across the board, and the history has been supressed across the board,” he said.
Metzer said Thanksgiving is a good opportunity for American Indians to reflect on the past and be thankful for what they do have despite the oppression they have experienced.
“Not all American Indians think the same way,” Metzger said, “but I think in general they have a different mindset, and I think there’s a feeling of thankfulness that they survived and a feeling of hope that there can be healing between Indians and European Americans.” © Copyright 2008 Ball State Daily News