To Native Americans, myths surround Thanksgiving

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Many Americans will call Thursday, Nov. 25, Thanksgiving.

The United American Indians of New England (UAINE) call it a Day of Mourning.

According to the UAINE website, “Many Native people do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures.”

Since 1970, UAINE and other Native people have gathered to march at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Not every Native American refers to Thanksgiving as a Day of Mourning but it’s also not known as a day of celebration of friendship between Europeans and indigenous peoples, said Anna Brokenleg, an Instructional Coach with the Sioux Falls School District’s Office of Indian Education.

“Day of Mourning, is really more, as far as I know, on a case-by-case basis for individuals,” Brokenleg said of acknowledging the day.

The Day of Mourning is one way to draw attention to the myths that surround the first Thanksgiving story of 1861, according to UAINE.

Brokenleg said myths surround the first Thanksgiving and continue today. Her family does not celebrate the day as what’s traditionally known as Thanksgiving but rather as a day to gather, talk about history as the family often does and to focus on gratitude.

Also while a historical account refers to a harvest gathering of Wampanoags and Pilgrims, there was also a March 1620 reference to a peace treaty meeting in that journal from that year. The same journal also describes a harvest gathering.

Thanksgiving wasn’t an official national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it in November of 1863.

The European settlers, or Pilgrims, who arrived in Plymouth in 1620 settled on Wampanoag land.

There were originally 69 tribes in the Wampanoag Nation, according to the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation website.

Historians, including authors David Silverman and James W. Loewen, say there were tensions between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims and also the Europeans who had arrived before the Pilgrims.

Europeans brought disease, which wiped out many Native peoples. Often, general mistreatment, including enslavement on the part of Europeans, was part of the relationship.

King James cited “a wonderfull Plague, together with many horrible Slaugthers, and Murthers, committed amoungst the Sauages and brutish People there, heertofore inhabiting…,” in the New England Charter of 1620 published online by Yale Law School.

Disease and other factors prompted the Wampanoags to seek a treaty with the Pilgrims, Brokenleg said.

But historians differ on exactly when the treaty happened. It may have been in March or April, according to History.com, a 2017 blog published by the National Library of Congress, or Indian Country Today.

“Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,” which was co-written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, describes a March 1620 meeting with Massasoit  of the Wampanoag in which “Then they treated of peace.”

The authors of “Mourt’s Relation” describe the treaty as this:

“1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.

2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender, that we might punish him.

3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people are at work, he should cause them to be restored, and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the likewise to them.

4. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him; if any did war against us, he should aid us.

5. He should send to his neighbor confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.

6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them, as we should do our pieces when we came to them.

Lastly, that doing thus, King James would esteem of him as his friend and ally.”

It was later in “Mourt’s Relation” where a harvest gathering was described.

“Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,a harvest gathering like this: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors…many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.,” said “Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,a harvest gathering like this:

“Mourt’s Relation” goes on to describe the status of the peace covenant in a paragraph immediately following the feast gathering description.

“We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us;…” said “Mourt’s Relation.

Brokenleg said while the Native people did teach the Pilgrims about planting and growing crops, it stemmed from a particular individual who was taken as a slave.

That slave is called Squanto, or Tisquantum. He escaped slavery and traveled to Europe with the help of the Catholic church. He returned to North America in 1619 to find that many of his Wampanoag tribe had died because of European illnesses.

“There were no Wampanoag women or children present. In the Wampanoags’ mindset this was not a safe place to bring women or children,” Brokenleg said of a meeting between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims.

Brokenleg said the idea that what’s considered a first Thanksgiving was a sign that things were happy and respectful between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag is not accurate.

Even paintings of the first Thanksgiving are inaccurate in how they display the clothing of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, she said.

Dr. Kelli Mosteller, said in a November 2020 publication of the of Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center in Oklahoma, the myth of Thanksgiving found solid footing when it was declared a national holiday in November of 1863.

Mosteller, the director of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Heritage Center, said in November 2020, the 1863 declaration came in the midst of the war against Native Americans and the Dakota War of 1862. The declaration was more about touting mythical good relations between Natives and whites than truth, Mosteller said in the publication.

The treaty of between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims lasted less than 20 years of 50 years, depending on points of historical reference.

In 1637, a Wampanoag village was destroyed because European settlers believed a Wampanoag had killed a man. The Pequot Massacre of 1637 in which tribal members gathered for an annual festival and hundreds were killed prompted the Massachusetts Bay Colony to declare a day of thanksgiving for a victory of the Pequot.

King Phillips War happened in 1675. More than 40% of the Wampanoag tribal population was killed and large number of healthy males sold off as slaves.

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