The First Thanksgiving, The Last of Its Kind

I’m fairly certain that the North American mainstream shares the idea of the first Thanksgiving as a joyous communion between Pilgrims and Native Americans. Maybe it was. There is some kind of comfort in thinking of the first Thanksgiving in that way.  It’s possible that, when thinking of the first Thanksgiving that way, we get a glimpse of what could have been. In collective hearts and minds, it represents a moment in early American history where Pilgrims and Native Americans were equal. With this equality, the gifts of the earth were shared and thanks were given for the life that these gifts provided. At least, that’s one way of thinking of it.

Still, remaining with the idea of the first Thanksgiving as peaceful celebration between two different cultures, another thought arises. The first Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the end for Indigenous freedoms maybe, as well as the loss of innocence for the people who would later become known as the “first” Americans. What a saddening reminder of the true potential of what this country could have been. I romantically think of a genuinely “New” World where Europeans and Indigenous came together to form a better world, maybe even a better humanity. As we know, that wasn’t to be the outcome.

As some of you know, the first Thanksgiving was due mostly in thanks to the Indigenous who showed the starving Pilgrims how to live off the land and survive in their new settlement. However, there are a number of things that the majority of Americans don’t know about the first Thanksgiving.

Despite the gifts, knowledge, and protection that the Wampanoag and other Northeast tribes generously shared with the Pilgrims, Native people were not invited to the Pilgrims’ first harvest celebration.

According to Wampanoag history, the Wampanoag only became a part of the Pilgrims’ first harvest celebration after investigating celebratory gunfire that could have been interpreted as the Pilgrim settlement being attacked. It was only upon discovering the harvest festivities already underway that the Wampanoag were invited to join the Pilgrims. The Wampanoag gifted five deer to the feast as the main protein of the first Thanksgiving. (There isn’t a definite indication that turkey was even a part of the first Thanksgiving meal.)

Sadly, the first Thanksgiving was probably the last of its kind.

Today, Thanksgiving exists in America as a tradition surrounded by myth and defined by personal and collective significance. It is with mixed emotion that I look back on the collective history and my own personal history of Thanksgiving. I feel the same goes for many people of Native descent.

Since 1970, Thanksgiving has been acknowledged as the National Day of Mourning for many Native Americans. Each Thanksgiving, crowds of Native people gather at Plymouth Rock to mourn all that was lost since that first Thanksgiving.

As individuals, I believe we must find our own meanings in these kinds of things. It possibly means arriving at some duality where, at once, we as Native Americans mourn yet celebrate and give thanks to the Creator with close family and friends.

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  1. Larry Hubbard
    Posted November 24, 2015 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    To me thanksgiving has been a holiday that I get off work. I was taught the same as everyone else,we now was not true. I learned a long time ago that the that the indigenous people were totally mistreated. What happened was absolutely an a travesty. I have joined a couple of your websites and found out it is still going on. I had no idea. God bless all of you.

  2. Posted November 26, 2015 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    I have known the history of the first Thanksgiving for some time now, despite being taught as a child the common thought that Natives and the First Americans shared the day as equals. I have mixed thoughts of the day, similar to the author of this article. I am a white American with only a small percentage of Native blood, but in my heart I believe the opposite is true. Unfortunately, I feel that I do not know enough about the Native cultures to truely make this statement a fact. It is probably more wishful thinking than actually realized. I would love to make the statement a fact by learning as much as I can about the real Native America and its peoples. I want to make the statement that I feel more Native in my heart than the white I was born with, actually realized.

  3. Posted November 26, 2015 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    I know what we were taught in grand school was more of a fairy tale than truth! I come form a German dutch and soux and Cherokee background. Everything I've ever read about this holiday 90% of it was made to seem like it was a joyous celebration! I knew that it wasn't for the native Americans! This country belonged to them then and it still does! I pray that God takes care of all the tribes and watches over them and protects them! It just goes to show you that a lot of things never change! You teach someone how to survive and they repay you by taking what's yours! God bless to all native Americans! <3

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