This Thanksgiving

Take a moment to realize what you are celebrating.


Time to carve that jumbo turkey, indulge in vicious gluttony, and catch up on the latest family gossip from your drunken aunt: its Thanksgiving. It’s a time for thanks — giving thanks to those around you, for the family you love and the food on your table. It’s also a time to reminisce; reminisce on the American roots and the colonists who carved their way through the land which provides us the ample opportunities we have today. It’s Thanksgiving, and these are the basics.

But this Thanksgiving I challenge you to do something a little different. This Thanksgiving I challenge you with the truth. I challenge you to think about who and what you are giving thanks to, and who you may be leaving behind. Envision the world 400 years ago, in an area now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The year was 1620. The Mayflower, carrying 102 colonists from England seeking fortune and opportunity in the new world, held anchor in Plymouth Harbor during a cold winter. In search of land rich with both wild game and land for cultivating, the immigrants finally decided on a spot to settle. They discovered a land riddled with overgrown fields and signs of previous settlement by Native Americans. The area was known as Patuxet to the natives, but renamed Plymouth by the conquering colonists. The Plymouth Colony was founded in December of 1620.

In just a few months, the colony was in dire need of help. Living out of dirt covered huts, lacking provisions, and plagued by scurvy and famine, the original Plymouth population of 102 had dropped to just 57. Of the 57 survivors, only 4 were of enough health to tend to the sick and dying. The colony felt hopeless, and the Plymouth Colony was near eradication. That was until their fortunes changed in March of 1621.

Their savior came in the form of a charismatic Wampanoag Indian by the name of Samoset. Samoset informed the colonists about the local Wampanoag tribe, and the tribes leader Massasoit. The survivors of Plymouth, seeking alliance with the Indians and whatever provisions they could muster, asked Samoset to retrieve Massasoit and bring him to the colony. Five days later, Massasoit arrived at the decaying colony with provisions and aspirations of an alliance.

A peace treaty was soon made between the Wampanoag and the Plymouth Colony. After their initial meeting, a Wampanoag man named Squanto stayed with the settlers and taught them how to survive on the American land. Squanto taught the colonists how to navigate the land, acquire game animals, and most importantly of all, how to cultivate the land for crops.

By the following fall, with all owe due to the Wampanoag’s wisdom and generosity to the colonists, the Plymouth Colony was prospering. They had plenty of food to provide them for the upcoming winter and their shelters and food gathering methods were well assimilated to that of the Indians. To celebrate a productive growing season the colony planned on having a grand feast, which became known as the “First Thanksgiving”. They celebrated with meat from fowl and crops grown from their now productive fields, but never invited Wampanoag’s. When Massasaoit arrived at the colony, however, he ordered his men to return back to retrieve more food in the form of venison and fish so they could participate in the festivity.

This was the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate today. It’s a utopic scene, not only showing peace and harmony between the settlers and Indians, but also serving as an ode to the foundations of our country. However, the story of the first Thanksgiving is told only in part truth, leaving out a greater and more revealing picture of the times.

The Plymouth Colony along with the newly formed and neighboring Wessagussett Colony began to grow in population and productivity. Through their expansion, the colonies began to lean hard on the Natives for both land and trading provisions. The English demanded more land, and more trade items. The natives began to run low on game, trapping out many beaver, searching further and wider for pelts, and began selling off their land to keep the English happy. By 1623, the pressure and mistreatment of native tribes hit a boiling point where Pecksuot, leader of a Massachusetts Indian tribe, held his ground by threatening the Wesagussett settlers.

Pecksuot knew that something had to be done if the natives were to protect their way of life. He made statements that were threatening towards the Wessagussett settlers, who in turn seeked help from the stronger and larger Plymouth Colony. Myles Standish, military captain of the Plymouth Colony, staged a meeting with Pecksuot and his warriors where they would share dinner and talk of trade. Pecksuot and the Massachussetts tribe, seeing the dinner as opportune for establishing good relations with the powerful Englishmen, agreed to the meeting. The unassuming tribe members entered the one-room building where Standish had arranged the dinner. Of the Natives were women, children, and mighty warriors including one named Wituwamat. Once settled in the building, Standish cued his men to carry out their plan. His men ambushed the Indians, stabbing them all to death. Standish returned to the Plymouth Colony triumphantly with Wituwamat’s head, having extinguished an Indian threat.

After the settlers had learned what they needed about survival and prosperity in the New World from the Wampanoag, relations with the Indians began to deteriorate. Although the Wampanoag brought the Plymouth Colony back from death, the settlers continued to reap benefits from Indian manipulation. Massasoit stayed in alliance with the Plymouth Colony, but only because the settlers knew what they could gain from him. They forced him to repeatedly sell off of Wampanoag lands.

Massassoit envisioned a prosperous relationship with the English, but his naïve and genuine intentions sparked disaster for the Wampanoagan way of life. All but one of his children were ultimately killed in King Phillip’s War of 1675, along with roughly 40% of the tribe. Surviving Wampanoags were largely killed off by diseases brought by the English or sold off as slaves. Many were pushed off native lands, and converted to Christianity. By the 18th century, the Wampanoagan culture was virtually extinct, and it all started with the virtuous intentions of Massassoit during the first thanksgiving.

So this Thanksgiving I challenge you to give thanks to the Native American tribes of the past and present. To give thanks to the Wampanoagan tribe, who never received any form of appreciation from the Plymouth Colony who so desperately needed them in the Famine of 1621. I challenge you to recognize the atrocities and abuse of the settlers on Native American’s during this time. I challenge you to understand that the original thanksgiving took the Wampanoagan way of life to revive a dying Plymouth Colony, and that Indians were repaid through slavery, slaughter, and assimilation.

Now, in the 21st century, we still face mistreatment and manipulation of Native Americans, this time through the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline threatens the integrity of historic Native American lands where the Sioux and Meskwaki once hunted, fished, and cultivated without European influence. The pipeline also threatens the environment and livelihoods of the existing tribe members, who deeply rely on the Missouri River as a source for freshwater. Protestors are receiving very little help, media coverage is negligible, and voices need to be heard.

This Thanksgiving, pay thanks by standing up for existing Native American tribes.

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