2021 marks the 400th anniversary of the First Thanksgiving. Who doesn’t love a national holiday of thanks?
The Wampanoag People, who helped Pilgrim families survive 1621, see Thanksgiving through a lens different from one of thanks.
Within a decade after Pilgrims arrived in 1620, Wampanoags were a minority in their own land. Europeans were converting Indian land to European owned land, and by 1930 they were converting Indians to Christianity. Neither conversion was gentle. By 1879 Native children were forcibly sent to US government run boarding schools where “Indian ways” of culture, religion, language and government were crushed under the motto of “kill the Indian, save the man.” Such schools existed decades into the 20th century.
Before the Mayflower landed, Europeans shipped “Indians” to Europe as slaves and curiosities. Tisquantum, called Squanto by the English, was one of them. When English-fluent Squanto returned to America in 1619 in time to teach Pilgrims survival farming skills in spring 1621, two-thirds of Wampanoags had died of European diseases.
I understand why many Native Americans view the First Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning instead of the Hallmark moment many celebrate.
I’m an American unafraid to look at history through a lens other than what is traditionally accepted. On this 400th anniversary of the First Thanksgiving, I give thanks for much. I also honor the survival of the Americans who were here first.