educators across the country teach their
students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially
American holiday. They try to give students an accurate
picture of what happened in Plymouth in 1621 and explain how
that event fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching
materials give an incomplete,
if not inaccurate, portrayal of the first
Thanksgiving, particularly the involvement of Native American
Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native
Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are
depicted as nameless, faceless, generic “Indians” who merely
shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims. The real story is much
deeper, richer, and more nuanced. The Indians in attendance,
the Wampanoag, played a lead role in this historic encounter,
and they had been essential to the survival of the colonists
during the newcomers’ first year.
The Wampanoag were a people
with a sophisticated society
who had occupied the region for
thousands of years. They
had their own government, their own
religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system,
and their own culture. They were also a people for whom
"giving thanks" was a part of daily life.
Like the Wampanoag, thousands of Native American nations and
communities across the continent had their own histories and
Native peoples were and continue to be an integral part of the American story.
It is the hope of Native peoples that the the story of Thanksgiving be taught in a new way—one that recognizes the country’s original people and gives real meaning to November as American Indian Heritage Month.