Native Individuals share long-ignored Thanksgiving truths | Indigenous Rights Information

Yearly, on the fourth Thursday of November, the US celebrates Thanksgiving.

The nationwide vacation – one of many busiest journey intervals within the US – is a time for households throughout the nation to collect for a standard meal of roasted turkey, squash, corn, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

In in style legend, the Thanksgiving feast could be traced again to a pleasant gathering about 400 years in the past between English Pilgrims – settlers who travelled on board the Mayflower ship – and Native Individuals at Plymouth, in present-day Massachusetts.

However for the Indigenous individuals who had referred to as the realm dwelling for at the least 12,000 years, the arrival of the British settlers led to plague, genocide and intergenerational trauma that persists to this present day.

“The narrative round Thanksgiving as we speak ignores our historical past,” mentioned Steven Peters, a member of the Mashpee tribe of the Wampanoag in Massachusetts, who regard Thanksgiving as a national day of mourning.

“It paints the image of those useful Indians that had been ready round for the Pilgrims to reach so we may educate them the best way to hunt, fish, and develop crops efficiently,” Peters advised Al Jazeera, stressing, nonetheless, that this isn’t actually what occurred.

‘The Nice Interruption’

Now, the Wampanoag are reclaiming the historical past of Thanksgiving amid a nationwide push throughout the US to recognise – and grapple with – the legacy of colonialism and its lasting results on Indigenous folks and communities.

When the primary European explorers arrived in North America, the Wampanoag had been a thriving federation of 70 villages dwelling to as many as roughly 100,000 folks.

The Wampanoag, whose identify means “Folks of the First Mild”, inhabited the western coast of Cape Cod Bay, fruitful lands populated by deer and elk within the forests, and fish and clams within the rivers. They cultivated corn, squash and beans. Within the chilly winters, they moved inland to hotter housing away from the tough North Atlantic climate.

Inside view of a “Weety8”, a winter dwelling of the Mashpee Wampanoag, seen at a museum in Mashpee, Massachusetts. [File: Stephan Savoia/AP Photo]

However someday round 1616, Europeans arriving within the New World introduced viruses that devastated the Indigenous inhabitants.

Villagers started displaying indicators of sickness, a yellowing of the pores and skin, fever and blisters, Peters mentioned. The unknown plague ripped via the Wampanoag nation. As soon as sick, most died inside a couple of days. An estimated 80 % to 90 % of the inhabitants was worn out inside three years.

The Wampanoag name it, “the Nice Interruption”.

The Mayflower

A number of years earlier than the Mayflower arrived in 1620, a bunch of English explorers had kidnapped about 20 Wampanoag males, who had been then offered as slaves in Spain, mentioned Peters, who as we speak is a keeper of the Wampanoag’s historic narrative.

Amongst them was a person named Tisquantum, who travelled from Spain to England and finally returned dwelling earlier than the arrival of the Mayflower. 

Tisquantum, additionally identified by the identify Squanto, discovered his village had been worn out by the plague. However having discovered the English language, he served as an interpreter and information for the early Pilgrims, who had been non secular separatists.

Historians know concerning the first Thanksgiving due to a letter written by Edward Winslow, one of many Pilgrim leaders.

“Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor despatched 4 males on fowling, that so we’d after a extra particular method rejoice collectively, after we had collect the fruit of labours,” Winslow wrote.

A bunch of some 90 Wampanoag males, who Peters mentioned had been most likely warriors, joined with the Pilgrims in feast and leisure for 3 days, Winslow wrote. The feast lifted the spectre of hunger from the colonists.

Led by a drummer boy, the Pilgrims marched to church after their first Thanksgiving feast on this scene from a 1960 movie [AP Photo]

Little else is thought about that encounter, however historical past gives some context.

For 50 years, the colonists and the Wampanoag co-existed in an alliance beneath the management of Wampanoag chieftain Massasoit.

However when Massasoit died, his youthful son turned chief and deserted the peace settlement following violations by the colonists in a historical past detailed within the 2019 e book titled, This Land Is Their Land, by David J Silverman.

‘Brink of extinction’

A devastating warfare adopted from 1675 to 1678 between the Wampanoag and the colonists. A whole bunch had been killed on either side and when the battle was over, the Wampanoag had been defeated. Many had been executed or offered into slavery.

“Our language was taken away from us. Our children had been put into boarding faculty. Households had been ripped aside. Finally, we misplaced our land to taxes. So we had been left with nothing,” Peters advised Al Jazeera.

“There was a cut-off date the place we had been right down to most likely 1,000 or much less folks. We had been on the point of extinction,” Peters mentioned.

Mounds of rocks all through the northeast US woods from Rhode Island to Maine doubtless mark historic Indian burial grounds the place Seventeenth-century European settlers and Native Individuals fought a brutal warfare [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

For greater than two centuries, the legend of Thanksgiving was noticed by colonists within the US as a harvest pageant till President Abraham Lincoln declared it a nationwide day of prayer and thanksgiving to God in 1863, throughout the US Civil Battle.

Some historians suppose the primary official English Thanksgiving feast might have occurred in Virginia circa 1619, when a bunch of colonists had been directed to carry an annual ceremony giving thanks for his or her arrival within the New World.

However the English colonists and Virginia tribes of the Powhatan Nation fought a sequence of wars. Over time, the colonists pushed the Native Individuals onto reservations or westward in the direction of the Appalachian mountains.


The Wampanoag folks as we speak quantity about 10,000, Peters mentioned – and the neighborhood is rising.

Group leaders are engaged on growing reasonably priced housing, jobs, and training, whereas efforts to revive the Wampanoag language are beneath method, together with by utilizing a textual content of the Bible that was translated 350 years in the past.

The Wampanoag language had largely died out by the mid-1800s because the variety of native audio system dwindled.

The Mashpee tribe additionally has constructed a museum, in Mashpee, Massachusetts with displays and movies telling the neighborhood’s aspect of the Thanksgiving story.

“We’re attempting to construct one thing again that was taken away from us,” Peters mentioned.

“By training such because the displays that we do, movies, artists’ renditions, we will begin to break down a number of the stereotypes and the systemic racism that continues to persist as we speak in our society.”

The historical past of different teams of Indigenous Individuals are additionally being included in narratives that after solely advised the European aspect of the story in the US.

In an historic district of Williamsburg, Virginia, as soon as the capital of the English colony, re-enactors are sharing historical past and data of Virginia’s Native tribes at a residing historical past encampment.

The Pamunkey, Mattaponi and Chickahominy tribes had been an everyday presence in 18th-century Williamsburg and different Virginia settlements.

“The story of America is incomplete with out understanding the Indigenous populations and the influence that they had on the constructing of our nation,” Colonial Williamsburg President Cliff Fleet mentioned in a letter celebrating American Indian heritage month, in November.

Toodie Coombs, of East Falmouth, Massachusetts, proper, distributes prayer pamphlets written in Wampanoag and English [File: Steven Senne/AP Photo]

Like these in Massachusetts, Indigenous communities in Virginia are gaining larger, if belated, recognition of their tribal rights in nation-to-nation dealings with the state. For example, in his last order earlier than leaving workplace in January, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam required state businesses to seek the advice of with tribes earlier than making choices that have an effect on vital Indigenous lands and waters.

Earlier this 12 months, President Joe Biden turned the primary US president to recognise Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the identical day as Columbus Day, a vacation that commemorates the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, which Native Individuals have lengthy protested.

A number of statues of Columbus have been faraway from US cities in recent times amid a reckoning with the lasting legacy of colonialism.

Indicative of the shift within the US, Biden appointed Deb Haaland, a Native American from Arizona and former member of Congress, to function secretary of the inside, the US division that governs Indigenous affairs.

Most just lately, Biden hosted a summit of 570 tribal leaders from throughout the US on the White Home on November 15. The White Home unveiled billions in new infrastructure, social and public security programmes for US tribes, together with higher recognition of their historic treaty rights.