Native Americans share long-ignored Thanksgiving truths

Every 12 months, on the fourth Thursday of November, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving.

The nationwide vacation – one of many busiest travel intervals within the US – is a time for households throughout the nation to assemble for a conventional meal of roasted turkey, squash, corn, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

In well-liked legend, the Thanksgiving feast might be traced again to a pleasant gathering about 400 years in the past between English Pilgrims – settlers who travelled on board the Mayflower ship – and Native Americans at Plymouth, in present-day Massachusetts.

But for the Indigenous individuals who had referred to as the world home for at the least 12,000 years, the arrival of the British settlers led to plague, genocide and intergenerational trauma that persists to this present day.

“The narrative around Thanksgiving today ignores our history,” mentioned Steven Peters, a member of the Mashpee tribe of the Wampanoag in Massachusetts, who regard Thanksgiving as a nationwide day of mourning.

“It paints the picture of these helpful Indians that were waiting around for the Pilgrims to arrive so we could teach them how to hunt, fish, and grow crops successfully,” Peters informed Al Jazeera, stressing, nonetheless, that this isn’t actually what occurred.

‘The Great Interruption’

Now, the Wampanoag are reclaiming the historical past of Thanksgiving amid a nationwide push throughout the US to recognise – and grapple with – the legacy of colonialism and its lasting results on Indigenous individuals and communities.

When the primary European explorers arrived in North America, the Wampanoag have been a thriving federation of 70 villages home to as many as approximately 100,000 individuals.

The Wampanoag, whose identify means “People of the First Light”, inhabited the western coast of Cape Cod Bay, fruitful lands populated by deer and elk within the forests, and fish and clams within the rivers. They cultivated corn, squash and beans. In the chilly winters, they moved inland to hotter housing away from the tough North Atlantic climate.

Inside view of a “Weety8”, a winter home of the Mashpee Wampanoag, seen at a museum in Mashpee, Massachusetts. [File: Stephan Savoia/AP Photo]

But someday round 1616, Europeans arriving within the New World introduced viruses that devastated the Indigenous inhabitants.

Villagers started displaying indicators of sickness, a yellowing of the pores and skin, fever and blisters, Peters mentioned. The unknown plague ripped by the Wampanoag nation. Once sick, most died inside a couple of days. An estimated 80 p.c to 90 p.c of the inhabitants was worn out inside three years.

The Wampanoag name it, “the Great Interruption”.

The Mayflower

A couple of years earlier than the Mayflower arrived in 1620, a bunch of English explorers had kidnapped about 20 Wampanoag males, who have been then bought as slaves in Spain, mentioned Peters, who right now is a keeper of the Wampanoag’s historic narrative.

Among them was a person named Tisquantum, who travelled from Spain to England and finally returned home earlier than the arrival of the Mayflower. 

Tisquantum, additionally identified by the identify Squanto, discovered his village had been worn out by the plague. But having realized the English language, he served as an interpreter and information for the early Pilgrims, who have been spiritual separatists.

Historians know in regards to the first Thanksgiving due to a letter written by Edward Winslow, one of many Pilgrim leaders.

“Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gather the fruit of labours,” Winslow wrote.

A gaggle of some 90 Wampanoag males, who Peters mentioned have been most likely warriors, joined with the Pilgrims in feast and leisure for 3 days, Winslow wrote. The feast lifted the spectre of hunger from the colonists.

Led by a drummer boy, the Pilgrims marched to church after their first Thanksgiving feast on this scene from a 1960 movie [AP Photo]

Little else is thought about that encounter, however historical past offers some context.

For 50 years, the colonists and the Wampanoag co-existed in an alliance below the management of Wampanoag chieftain Massasoit.

But when Massasoit died, his youthful son grew to become chief and deserted the peace settlement following violations by the colonists in a historical past detailed within the 2019 e-book titled, This Land Is Their Land, by David J Silverman.

‘Brink of extinction’

A devastating struggle adopted from 1675 to 1678 between the Wampanoag and the colonists. Hundreds have been killed on each side and when the battle was over, the Wampanoag have been defeated. Many have been executed or bought into slavery.

“Our language was taken away from us. Our kids were put into boarding school. Families were ripped apart. Eventually, we lost our land to taxes. So we were left with nothing,” Peters informed Al Jazeera.

“There was a point in time where we were down to probably 1,000 or less people. We were on the brink of extinction,” Peters mentioned.

Mounds of rocks all through the northeast US woods from Rhode Island to Maine possible mark historic Indian burial grounds the place 17th-century European settlers and Native Americans fought a brutal struggle [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

For greater than two centuries, the legend of Thanksgiving was noticed by colonists within the US as a harvest pageant till President Abraham Lincoln declared it a nationwide day of prayer and thanksgiving to God in 1863, throughout the US Civil War.

Some historians suppose the primary official English Thanksgiving feast might have occurred in Virginia circa 1619, when a bunch of colonists have been directed to carry an annual ceremony giving thanks for his or her arrival within the New World.

But the English colonists and Virginia tribes of the Powhatan Nation fought a sequence of wars. Over time, the colonists pushed the Native Americans onto reservations or westward in direction of the Appalachian mountains.

The Wampanoag individuals right now quantity about 10,000, Peters mentioned – and the group is rising.

Community leaders are engaged on growing reasonably priced housing, jobs, and schooling, whereas efforts to revive the Wampanoag language are below method, together with through the use of a textual content of the Bible that was translated 350 years in the past.

The Wampanoag language had largely died out by the mid-1800s because the variety of native audio system dwindled.

The Mashpee tribe additionally has constructed a museum, in Mashpee, Massachusetts with displays and movies telling the group’s aspect of the Thanksgiving story.

“We’re trying to build something back that was taken away from us,” Peters mentioned.

“Through education such as the exhibits that we do, videos, artists’ renditions, we can start to break down some of the stereotypes and the systemic racism that continues to persist today in our society.”

The historical past of different teams of Indigenous Americans are additionally being included in narratives that when solely informed the European aspect of the story within the United States.

In an historic district of Williamsburg, Virginia, as soon as the capital of the English colony, re-enactors are sharing historical past and data of Virginia’s Native tribes at a living historical past encampment.

The Pamunkey, Mattaponi and Chickahominy tribes have been an everyday presence in 18th-century Williamsburg and different Virginia settlements.

“The story of America is incomplete without understanding the Indigenous populations and the impact they had on the building of our nation,” Colonial Williamsburg President Cliff Fleet mentioned in a letter celebrating American Indian heritage month, in November.

Toodie Coombs, of East Falmouth, Massachusetts, proper, distributes prayer pamphlets written in Wampanoag and English [File: Steven Senne/AP Photo]

Like these in Massachusetts, Indigenous communities in Virginia are gaining better, if belated, recognition of their tribal rights in nation-to-nation dealings with the state. For occasion, in his ultimate order earlier than leaving workplace in January, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam required state businesses to seek the advice of with tribes earlier than making choices that have an effect on essential Indigenous lands and waters.

Earlier this 12 months, President Joe Biden grew to become the primary US president to recognise Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the identical day as Columbus Day, a vacation that commemorates the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, which Native Americans have lengthy protested.

Several statues of Columbus have been faraway from US cities in recent times amid a reckoning with the lasting legacy of colonialism.

Indicative of the shift within the US, Biden appointed Deb Haaland, a Native American from Arizona and former member of Congress, to function secretary of the inside, the US division that governs Indigenous affairs.

Most lately, Biden hosted a summit of 570 tribal leaders from throughout the US on the White House on November 15. The White House unveiled billions in new infrastructure, social and public security programmes for US tribes, together with higher recognition of their historic treaty rights.