Understanding Thanksgiving from Our Side of the Table
Native communities have their own diverse practices to celebrate family, resilience, community and giving thanks. And giving thanks doesn’t just happen around this holiday we call Thanksgiving. We hope this year, you will take this time to celebrate Thanksgiving by supporting Native communities, challenging historical myths and learning about Native resilience.
Understanding the Origins of Thanksgiving
There are many versions and myths surrounding the origins of Thanksgiving.
Today, the myth of Thanksgiving suggests that Native people and Pilgrims came together to celebrate the survival of the fragile Plymouth colony. Native people are said to have taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, beans and squash and the first thanksgiving was a celebration of Pilgrim survival, perseverance and adaptation to the foreign soils of northeastern North America. In this version of history, Native people play a supporting cast to the Pilgrims who paved the way for American prosperity. This version of the first thanksgiving is a myth.
What do we know about the first Thanksgiving?
Most historians document that in 1621 there was indeed a First Thanksgiving
but Native people were not invited guests to this celebration. Nonetheless, Wampanoag soldiers showed up to the Pilgrim celebration after hearing celebratory gunshots and screams from Pilgrim settlements. The Wampanoag soldiers, historians suggest, thought the pilgrims were under attack and showed up as part of a diplomatic treaty of mutual defense between the Wampanoag nation and Pilgrims.
Beyond the first Thanksgiving, Standing Rock historian and Harvard Professor Philp Deloria notes that Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November as a national holiday in 1863 as a means to heal from the Civil War. It wasn’t until after the formation of the United States that narratives of a harmonious celebration between Pilgrims and Wampanoag were created to justify westward expansion and “manifest destiny.” And we know today that this westward expansion led to the theft of Native land, devastated Native languages, cultural practices, food systems and much more.
But Native nations are still here. Native people are strong and resilient. They are developing and leading efforts to improve their local communities and economies.
This Thanksgiving, we hope you will support Native communities as they grow strong and healthy local communities and economies and learn more about Native American people and history.
Ways You Can Help
- Support: Support food sovereignty and language preservation efforts by investing directly in Native-led initiatives. Visit First Nations grantee database to identify grassroots Native-led initiatives across the U.S. that you can support by visiting firstnations.org/grantee-directory/.
- Reclaim Native Truth: Watch this video about Native people challenging misconceptions and stereotypes. Read Reclaiming Native Truth. Learn more about the efforts of people to combat stereotypes and myths by reading our Reclaiming Native Truth reports, highlighting ways you can help challenge myths and misconceptions of Native people today.
- Learn More: Learn more about Native food sovereignty, Native language preservation efforts and Native youth-serving programs in Native communities by reading publications on First Nations’ Knowledge Center.
- Share resources with people in your network. Share stories of Native community resilience, and read more about Native people and communities by visiting our book list.