THE HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING

Growing up, one is always taught about the First Thanksgiving as a celebratory feast that the Native Americans welcomed the Pilgrims to. After this, the pilgrims hand off America to white people so they can create a great nation dedicated to liberty, opportunity and Christianity for the rest of the world to profit. However, this story is riddled with historical inaccuracies.

The Native Americans that the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth met with were the Wampanoags. The pilgrims landed in 1620 and the chief (sachem) Ousamequin offered them an entente—a friendly understanding or informal alliance—as a way to protect the Wampanoags against their rivals, the Narragansetts. This was not because he wanted to be friends; he and his people had been decimated by an epidemic disease and the English would be able to help him fend off his tribal rebels.

Moreover, the arrival of the Mayflower is not the first instance of the Wampanoags coming into contact with Europeans. Prior, they had been in contact with Europeans, but not in a friendly way. This history involves slave raiding and violence.

The result of telling and retelling the false origin of Thanksgiving is deeply harmful to the Wampanoag Indians whose lives and society were forever damaged after the English arrived in Plymouth. Some adults have said that they remember sitting in school during Thanksgiving and feeling invisible. Not only their classes, but society in general was making light of the historical trauma which weighs around their neck. The traditional narrative paints a deceptively sunny portrait of relationships between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people, concealing the long and bloody history of conflict between the Native Americans and European settlers.

For more information about the first Thanksgiving, please check out this article! In it, David Silverman discusses his book This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.

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