Every year, news outlets and social media are a-buzz with Thanksgiving themes. Find out how the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans celebrated the first Thanksgiving together at Plymouth Plantation. After that harvest, they honored him with a feast. The teacher said they were all dead. Trying to move that focus, as Michele Pecoraro and Plymouth 400 have done for their commemoration, comes with pushback — people saying they shouldn’t use their organization and the 400th anniversary to disparage the Pilgrims. Without modern knowledge of how diseases spread, Wampanoags attributed it to the supernatural spirits and gunpowder. secretary, 400 Years After the ‘First Thanksgiving,’ the Tribe That Fed the Pilgrims Continues to Fight for Its Land Amid Another Epidemic. Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Ask for volunteers to tell the story of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving. “There’s a place where those things do belong, as a point that we don’t make that mistake ever again.”. We have a chance to reclaim our language and our history and re-educate people. “When she mentioned we’re all dead, that was devastating,” Peters, 61, recalled to TIME. More: Not all Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. We are not given the decency of even having the name of us as a people mentioned,” says Deetz. “Being a Wampanoag person in this time of year, it’s always striking that we tell this story of the Pilgrims and the Indians, and yet the Wampanoag people are often times left out of this telling of this story. Likely, it was just a routine English harvest celebration. Regardless of whether it was rooted in historical fact, it became accepted as such. This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving (Book) Book Details. A lot of the significance behind the meal has been created over the years, spawning many myths and misconceptions that Wampanoags and Native Americans in general have been debunking ever since. With Tisquantum acting as a broker, the two groups worked out a kind of alliance through a series of visits, exchanges and the belief, at least on the part of the Wampanoag, that this small band of Pilgrims would stay just that: small. When the Mayflower pilgrims and the Wampanoag sat down for the first Thanksgiving in 1621, it wasn’t actually that big of a deal. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the feeling of loss as participants remember fellow Native Americans who have died of the coronavirus, especially in the Navajo Nation. But starting there ignores years of European contact with the Native people of New England, and paints the Wampanoag and their neighbors in the broad stroke of simplicity, ignoring the complex regional relationships and politicking at play. It also has an ally in President-elect Joe Biden, whose tribal nations platform indicates he’s on the side of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe—and Biden is reportedly vetting a Native American to be Interior Dept. "Out of the 69 tribes of just Wampanoag people who lived here pre-contact, only three — the Herring Pond, the Aquinnah and the Mashpee, plus a band of Assonet peoples, are still here," said Troy Currence, a medicine man with the Herring Pond Tribe. Sachems ruled by the will of the people. “Many white Americans hold it very dear, the idea that the main impetus for colonization was the search for religious freedom,” Silverman said. 163286925X. Throughout the season, the Wampanoag made their presence known but did not approach until February, when Samoset, a visiting Abenaki tribesman from Maine, approached Pilgrim leaders. All Rights Reserved. Turner said, “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.” At noon on every Thanksgiving Day, hundreds of Native people from around the country gather at Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, for the National Day of Mourning. “We needed an ally. By Wesley Lowery Globe Staff, November 24, 2013, 12:00 a.m. Mashpee Wampanoag tribe members sprinkled tobacco over a fire at a Thanksgiving celebration. “In order to balance something like this, you have to swing the pendulum a little more to one side.”. Pilgrim myths: Don't believe everything your kindergarten teacher told you. “I raised my hand, and I said no that’s not true, I’m a Wampanoag, and I’m still here. This is where the traditional telling of the Pilgrims and the Thanksgiving myth ends, with the two groups sitting down to dinner, celebrating their partnership and, for the Pilgrims, celebrating their successful colony and toasting to a future to come. We survived. Several weeks later, in late March, diplomatic relations between the two groups formally opened when Massasoit arrived in Plymouth, his face painted deep red, and flanked by about 60 intimidating warriors. Allowing the Pilgrims to settle and establishing diplomatic relations with them, even providing aid, brought risks but also reward. In late March, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that there was not a basis for the tribe’s 321 acres of tribal land in Mashpee and Taunton, Mass., to have reservation status because the tribe supposedly didn’t meet the definition of Indian. His remarks were censored and he declined the invitation and made his speech instead in the shadow of the statue of Massasoit on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth on Thanksgiving Day. A group of about 100 men and Massasoit came not to celebrate but, according to Peters, mostly as a reminder that they controlled the land the Pilgrims were staying on and they vastly outnumbered their new European neighbors. Steven Peters, a spokesman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, stands in a gallery opened for Native American Heritage Month. Then, early settlers and Native Americans break bread side by side. But perhaps the best starting point, according to Peters and other historians, is 1616, when a lethal pandemic tore through many Wampanoag villages. “When the colonists came over in the 17th century, they had to get rid of us in one form or fashion or another whether it as converting us, moving us, annihilating us, or shipping us out of the country into slavery, and I just wish people knew that because this history is not yet well known, but that’s what it took for America to be what it is today and for people to sit down to have their Thanksgiving dinner.”. But on Tuesday, historian David Silverman and Wampanoag tribe member David Vanderhoop set the record straight, sharing the true story of the first Thanksgiving in a conversation hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Linda Coombs, 71, an Aquinnah Wampanoag museum educator who also participated in Listening to Wampanoag Voices: Beyond 1620 and briefs teachers on Native American perspectives of U.S. history, believes the violence after that mythical Thanksgiving meal has to be faced head on. In March 1621, when Plymouth's survival was hanging in the balance, the Wampanoag sachem (or chief), Ousamequin (Massasoit), and Plymouth's governor, John Carver, declared their people's friendship for each other and a commitment to mutual defense. Jessica Rinaldi—The Boston Globe/Getty Images, Biden to Propose Citizenship Path for Immigrants, Jack Ma Resurfaces After Vanishing From Public. "We're lucky to be one of them. Today they make up two federally recognized tribes, Mashpee and Aquinnah—the two largest communities of Wampanoag—as well as several other tribes recognized by Massachusetts. This Thanksgiving, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is hoping to educate the public on the history of the holiday. In 1616, before the Pilgrims’ arrival, a still-mysterious disease caused an epidemic that decimated an estimated 75% to 90% of the 69 villages that made up the Wampanoag Nation back then. He will continue to celebrate Thanksgiving — something he and his family do every year, after the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth. The story could start a century earlier, in 1524, at the first known contact between Native Americans in southern New England and Europeans, in Narragansett Bay near Aquidneck Island. The Wampanoag, which translates to Easterners, inhabited the eastern part of present day Massachusetts and Rhode Island. For many Wampanoag, Thanksgiving has always been considered a day of mourning because of that epidemic and the centuries of American Indian removal policies that followed. “If you ask the general public, even educated people, that's the most common explanation. The historically accurate story of the Pilgrims and the founding of Plymouth Colony 400 years ago this month is not in most school history books. That would have been a really difficult decision for them to make.”. Four hundred years ago, the Wampanoag were reeling from an epidemic that nearly wiped out the village of Patuxet. Most historians agree that 50 Pilgrims came together for a 3-day harvest celebration and feast in 1621. It's not right.”. The head of another of Massasoit’s sons, Metacomet, better known as King Philip, was mounted on a pike outside Plymouth Colony as a warning, and the descendants of Massasoit, the Pilgrims’ great “protector and preserver,” were captured and sold into slavery in the West Indies. The Wampanoags were the tribe who dined with the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, and their farming and hunting techniques helped the Europeans survive their first harsh winter in Plymouth. It usually draws more than 1,000 attendees on Thanksgiving Day, but this year organizers are encouraging people who don’t live nearby to watch the livestream to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. The guns, knives and armor the Pilgrims carried would intimidate enemies threatening Wampanoag territory. The traditional story of Thanksgiving, and by extension the Pilgrims  — the one repeated in school history books and given the Peanuts treatment in "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" — doesn’t start in 1620, with the cold and seasick Pilgrims stepping off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock. At the same time, Peters does not think Thanksgiving should go the way of Confederate statues and names of slaveholders on buildings as the nation reckons with its history. The stories of disease ravaging the Wampanoag population, which so closely mirror that of the modern pandemic, are just one of many aspects that get left out of America’s Thanksgiving history. Initially, “a lot of native people associated firearms with epidemic disease because what they know is when Europeans show up, and fire their guns, shortly thereafter, people start dying of epidemic disease.”. But in the same way the real story stretches back before the arrival of the Pilgrims, it stretches forward. In a little more than 50 years, European settlers would vastly outnumber the indigenous people, with growing settlements such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north and Rhode Island to the south. Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com. The 51st annual National Day of Mourning will still take place at Plymouth Rock. Please try again later. suggesting to experts that it wasn’t a big deal at the time. As these debates were happening among the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims, most of whom were still living on the cramped and creaking Mayflower, struggled to survive the winter. The Pilgrims spent only a few weeks of 1620 in the Wampanoag village of Patuxet, which they would rename Plimoth (now Plymouth), and they certainly didn’t step off onto Plymouth Rock. “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law,”. When the Mayflower anchored off what is now known as Provincetown, the Pilgrims found themselves not in a vast, untouched land held for them by divine providence, but amid indigenous people wary and distrustful of Europeans, and the complex politics of rival tribes. In 1963, these two tracks crossed when President John F. Kennedy, whose family frolicked in the home of the native Nauset and Aquinnah people on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, immortalized them in his own Thanksgiving Day proclamation, baking the plaits together like the bread broken and shared in the mythic first Thanksgiving feast. In 1636, a murdered white man was found in his boat and the Pequot were blamed. As Silverman writes in his book, future annual encounters between the two would follow this same high-tension pattern. ISBN. Now there are estimated to be 4,000-5,000. Or in 1614, when a Nauset (Cape Cod) tribe member named Epenow was captured by Europeans and kept in bondage for three years. Still, there are Wampanoag members uneasy about the partnership. Such disease outbreaks would be common in Wampanoag areas for the next 30 years or so. Five weeks after docking the Mayflower in 1620, the Pilgrims … But his decision to allow the Pilgrims to stay at Patuxet and eventually provide them aid after they were driven off the Cape, Peters said, had less to do with a sense of dutiful benevolence and more to do with a careful weighing of circumstances and outcomes. “It would have been a hugely complex situation.”. “At that point, it really changes your perspective.”. “No one has acknowledged these atrocities happened,” Peters said, bringing up King Philip's War. I didn’t know enough then as a second grader that I could challenge her, but I think that I’ve challenged that second-grade teacher ever since. Much of the meal’s meaning was added in the 19th century, when the nation was divided over slavery and the Civil War, as an opportunity to encourage Americans to come together under a federal holiday. As for that 1621 feast — the supposed genesis of today’s Thanksgiving tradition — there was a small feast, but the Wampanoag were not invited, they showed up later. “This is part of what created the vulnerability that allowed Mayflower passengers to have a place to be in Massachusetts,” says Hartman Deetz, 45, a Mashpee Wampanoag artist, educator and activist. Several months later, after receiving help and protection from the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims held the harvest feast that would form the crux of the Thanksgiving myth centuries later. So by 1620, the Wampanoag, as Peters describes, were in a “difficult spot,” shaped by years of volatile contact with Europeans, slavery, regional threats to their power and a mysterious, devastating illness. … In 1970 Frank James of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe was asked to speak to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. The Wampanoag have survived and clung to their culture despite centuries of systemic removal from their land, destruction of their culture and denial of their rights. Thanksgiving. permanent protection through an act of Congress. “For me, that’s a really important place to start, because you understand the big decisions that were made,” Peters said. Massasoit (who was actually named Ousemequin) was the sachem (leader) of the Pokanoket Wampanoag, a local Native American society that had begun dealings with the colonists earlier in 1621. On a parallel track, the story of the Pilgrim forefathers coming to the New World and founding America for religious freedom gained steam, as New England Protestants wielded the myth to gain the top spot in the country’s cultural hierarchy, above Catholics and immigrants, according to historian David Silverman in his book “This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving.”. Wampanoag tribe gathers for Thanksgiving. It doesn’t start there because those things never happened, despite being immortalized in American mythos for generations. After a devastating winter during which many settlers died, thanks to Squanto's teaching, they had an abundant harvest. But when you’ve been telling a story one way for four centuries, any change feels like a monumental one, she said. But the matter is not resolved, and while the tribe awaits Interior’s new decision, it is hoping for permanent protection through an act of Congress. "We weren't used to diseases here," said Hazel Currence, an elder with the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, which lived in Patuxet. It’s hard to separate the Pilgrims from what the United States would eventually become, Silverman said. Further threatening the existence of the Wampanoag, the Narragansett Tribe, their powerful western rivals, were left largely untouched. In the early 17th century, some estimates say there were more than 40,000 Wampanoag people in New England. It is this feast of 1621 which was celebrated between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians that is widely considered the first Thanksgiving celebration. “How are we supposed to improve on this sorry record if we don’t understand the sorry record?” asked Silverman, a George Washington University professor. Massasoit weighed the risks and concluded it was better to have the danger on his side than have to face it. Now, every year in the United States, many people celebrate this day as Thanksgiving. Hendricks-Miller doesn’t like to use the word survival as much. From their point of view, whatever benefit they might gain would not be worth the threat of betrayal, violence and enslavement that seemed to follow contact with the Europeans. This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving. reportedly vetting a Native American to be Interior Dept. They probably ate vegetables, seafood and maybe a duck or goose. The Wampanoag weren’t invited to this feast originally, according to Tim Turner, Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours. “Even though it’s inaccurate, we can’t just bury it,” he said. In fact, all we know about the meal known as “the First Thanksgiving” in 1621 comes from a couple of paragraphs written respectively by prominent figures in Plymouth Colony, Edward Winslow and Governor William Bradford, suggesting to experts that it wasn’t a big deal at the time. Wampanoag members were not even invited, but they showed up. The Europeans viewed the decimation of the native population as akin to “God is sweeping away the pagans,” Silverman says. As Americans looked for an origin story that wasn’t soaked in the blood of Native Americans or built on the backs of slavery, the humble, bloodless story of the 102 Pilgrims forging a path in the New World in search of religious freedom was just what they needed, according to Silverman. Each sachemship was independent but had relationships with the other sachemships, all coming under the purview of the great sachem. We’re still here. Driving off or killing the Pilgrims, as many tribes, including the Nauset and specifically Epenow, wanted, was a valid option. After a decade of struggling to find jobs and fearing the Dutch influence on their children, the congregants sought a charter from The London Company to start a colony in America, although it was originally granted for land around the mouth of the Hudson River. Find out why. More recently, the Trump administration has been working to revoke reservation status for hundreds of acres of previously recognized Mashpee Wampanoag tribal lands. But while our nation’s inaugural harvest party was a crust-free affair, squash were a staple for the Wampanoag tribe that mixed with … The tribe is one of several currently under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. He engineered an escape and returned to his people on Martha’s Vineyard. She and her son have helped to incorporate the Wampanoag perspective into events around the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing in Cape Cod this month. It’s a bittersweet memory. Their role in helping the Pilgrims survive by sharing resources and wisdom went unacknowledged that day, according to accounts of the toasts given by Pilgrim leaders. The Wampanoag consisted of many different smaller tribes, which totaled about 15,000 people before the arrival of Europeans. ", A nation diminished: Pilgrims’ arrival in Provincetown 400 years ago spawned a clash of cultures, Mayflower Compact:The beginning of American democracy on Cape Cod. Massasoit has gone through a bit of a rebrand in the ensuing centuries to be painted as the “protector and preserver” of the Pilgrims — as it says on the statue dedicated to him overlooking Plymouth Rock. Visitors to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum pause to examine a new exhibit about early interactions between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in Provincetown, MA on Aug. 27. When Paula Peters was in second grade in Philadelphia in the mid-1960s, listening to a teacher talk about Plymouth colony and the Mayflower, a student asked what happened to the Native Americans who helped the Pilgrims settle, the Wampanoag. But it would cost valuable warriors, in short supply after the pandemic, and there was the risk of Europeans returning in overwhelming numbers or, worse, sailing around the Outer Cape to take their guns, knives and armor to the Narragansett, according to Silverman. The first national Thanksgiving Day did not invoke the Pilgrims at all. Not all Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. We have a chance to reclaim our language and our history and re-educate people. Teach students about this period in American history with Thanksgiving activities, resources, lesson plans, and teaching ideas about the voyage of the Mayflower, the daily life of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, and the first Thanksgiving … The Wampanoag Trading Post and Gallery is featuring an exhibit of artwork and movies by and about the tribe at its Mashpee Commons location and at a vacant storefront across the street. It would have been a hugely complex situation. This three-day celebration involving the entire village and about 90 Wampanoag has been celebrated as a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English … Linda Coombs, a member of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, has been working for decades to tell the story of the nation’s founding through the perspective of Native Americans. Five weeks after docking the Mayflower in 1620, the Pilgrims sailed away to find land better-suited to grow the crops they wanted, and ended up in Patuxet, the Wampanoag name for the area where they established Plymouth Colony. Author. It also doesn’t start a year later, with the Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag all sitting together to “break bread” and celebrate their first successful harvest and a long, harmonious relationship to come. The Wampanoag Trading Post and Gallery... Steven Peters, a spokesman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, stands in a gallery opened for Native American Heritage Month. Wampanoag adults have memories of being a kid during Thanksgiving season, sitting in school, feeling invisible and having to wade through the nonsense that teachers were shoveling their way. “We’re still here,” she prefers to say, “considering all that we’ve been through. Weetoomoo Carey, 8, left, and Jackolynn Carey, 5, Wampanoag Nipmucs from Mashpee, look across to the Mayflower replica anchored near Plymouth Rock on Nov. 26, 1991. “When we’re there together, there is a really profound sense of solidarity and hope for the future that all of us being together and listening to one another that that can lead to a better future to everyone.”, These events are opportunities to talk about the ways people are “thriving,” not just surviving. Its telling builds the empathy that has been sorely lacking when it comes to Native American lives. “I think the only way forward is to understand the history the way that it happened,” Steven Peters, a spokesman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, said. Wampanoag people have always held many seasonal thanksgiving ceremonies. Since then, Peters, a Mashpee Wampanoag tribe member, has promoted education about the real history behind the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s kind of like a resounding mantra, we’re still here.”. “I don’t think anyone at that point would have gone into an agreement with the Pilgrims if they knew how quickly they would multiply and start arriving,” Peters said. Find out why. The Thanksgiving Day Celebration Originated From a Massacre In 1621, though Pilgrims celebrated a feast, it was not repeated in the years to follow. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, also known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. That decision was made by Ousamequin, more commonly known as Massasoit, which means “great sachem.” In a structure that Peters says was far closer to a democratic government than the Pilgrim government, Wampanoag territory was organized into sachemships, each with a sachem — a leader — who would oversee that particular village. By signing up you are agreeing to our, Northeastern University Student Sent Back to Iran Despite Valid Visa, Judge's Order As Immigration Attorneys Warn of 'Troubling' Pattern, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2021 TIME USA, LLC. Please attempt to sign up again. secretary, which could help as well. “We needed a friend,” Peters said. several other tribes recognized by Massachusetts. But there is a big difference between these ancient and ongoing celebrations and the Pilgrims' first harvest festival which led to the establishment of the National holiday now known as Thanksgiving. The decision to help the Pilgrims, whose ilk had been raiding Native villages and enslaving their people for nearly a century, came after they stole Native food and seed stores and dug up Native graves, pocketing funerary offerings, as described by Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow in “Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,” published in 1622. The more historically accurate telling is gaining a foothold in small circles, as members of the Herring Pond, Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes; Michele Pecoraro, executive director of Plymouth 400, who is helping lead the anniversary commemoration; and Silverman bring the documented facts to light. Write the basic details on the board. “It’s not a fun story,” Peters said, but its telling brings the focus away from the white Europeans, the Pilgrims, and shifts the balance back to the people who were harmed. The colonists were very thankful, and invited the Wampanoag to a celebration in the fall. We didn't go away, we adapted.". They lived in wetus, which were dome shaped huts formed of tree limbs and covered with tall, th… Many Wampanoag hoped that the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing would be a galvanizing event to remind people that the Wampanoag still exist, but many of the commemorative events have been cancelled, postponed or moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Years later, relations turned sour, leading to war, many deaths, and great diminishment of the Wampanoag tribe. We didn’t go away, we adapted. They were with a group of Native Americans gathered for a day of mourning in response to the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving, Suzanne Kreiter—The Boston Globe/Getty Images, The Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers, including Jonathan James-Perry (L) and Kitty Hendricks Miller (C) perform at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on Nov. 29, 2019 in Boston to commemorate Native American Heritage Month. The Mashpee tribe has also had its own challenges internally, as its chairman was arrested on Nov. 13 and charged with accepting bribes in connection with plans to build a casino. She hopes that, just as the Black Lives Matter movement raised awareness of white supremacy, racism and attention to Black perspectives, the event is a reminder to listen to indigenous people. Washington's move came more than a century after the so-called "first Thanksgiving" in 1621 at Plymouth, Mass., featuring the Pilgrims and members of the Native American Wampanoag tribe. Thanksgiving — something he and his family Do every year in the United States eventually... Help from the Wampanoag, which translates to Easterners, inhabited the eastern part present. And deeper across the region pilgrim myths: Do n't believe everything kindergarten! States, many deaths, and great diminishment of the great sachem of my everyday being is people. 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