The Macomb Daily

Beloved story of first Thanksgivi­ng is ‘rosy’ compared to reality, professor says

- By Anne Runkle arunkle@medianewsg­

For generation­s, American schoolchil­dren were taught that the first Thanksgivi­ng in 1621 was a joyous gathering between the Pilgrims who survived their first year in New England and the Native Americans who helped them.

There was some truth to that story.

But there’s more to it, says George Milne, history professor at Oakland University. It wasn’t long before that spirit of cooperatio­n “went south,” he said.

“It’s very rosy compared to actual events,” he said.

The Wampanoag tribe did help the newcomers who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620 in what is now Massachuse­tts. They didn’t know how to fish. They didn’t know which native plants were edible. About half of them died in the first year, many from starvation.

The Native Americans had good reasons to cooperate with the Pilgrims, who left England because they felt the Church of England had been corrupted, and others who arrived on the Mayflower for economic opportunit­ies.

The Native Americans hoped to build alliances with the newcomers against other tribes or other European settlers. The newcomers had technology that benefited the Native Americans.

There had long been harvest celebratio­ns in colonial America, Milne says. And there were frequent diplomatic meetings between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Those gatherings certainly involved food, he said.

So, that part of the beloved story of the first Thanksgivi­ng was accurate.

But it wasn’t long before the newcomers began evangelizi­ng and enslaving the Native Americans.

By the end of the 1630s, there were frequent violent clashes between the two sides.

The story of a multicultu­ral and peaceful first Thanksgivi­ng has its roots in the Civil War era, when Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgivi­ng a national holiday, Milne said.

It was an attempt to “paper over” the atrocities committed against the Native Americans, Milne said.”It has a lot to do with feeling good and teaching kids that they belong to a melting pot society,” he said.

So, how do Native Americans feel about the holiday today?

In 1970, the United American Indians of New England began commemorat­ing Thanksgivi­ng Day as a National Day of Mourning to honor their ancestors who experience­d cultural genocide at the hands of European colonialis­ts, according to The Washington Post.

Native Americans as a whole say they’re still fighting for what’s rightfully theirs. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe still doesn’t have control over their entire ancestral land.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been weighing the constituti­onality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which Congress passed in 1978 to remedy the practice of removing Native children from their homes and sending them to non-Native boarding schools and families.

Dana Lasenby, chief executive officer of the Oakland Community Health Network, and a member of a Native American tribe, said for her, Thanksgivi­ng is a time to gather with family.

“Honestly,I’m not thinking

about Pilgrims and Indians,” she said. “The biggest thing is what are we going to eat?”

Lasenby acknowledg­es that any stereotype­s of any group of people can be


November is Native American Heritage Month, it is a time to advocate for greater understand­ing of the damage that stereotype­s can do and push for

better access to mental health assistance and educationa­l and economic opportunit­ies for Native Americans, Lasenby said.

The OCHN Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibil­ity

workgroup partners with local organizati­ons to bring trainings to staff at the organizati­on’s service provider network. Recorded trainings are available at

 ?? PHOTO COURTESY OF LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. PUBLIC DOMAIN. ?? A reproducti­on of the painting, “The 1st Thanksgivi­ng 1621” by Jean Leon Gerome Farris.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LIBRARY OF CONGRESS. PUBLIC DOMAIN. A reproducti­on of the painting, “The 1st Thanksgivi­ng 1621” by Jean Leon Gerome Farris.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States