Honoring The Wampanoag Side of the Thanksgiving Story


Today as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, let’s take time to pay our respects to the original tribe— the Wampanoag people—who are thought to have fed the Pilgrims at the first harvest feast that became what we now know, and practice, as a national holiday. Let’s also take a look, and honor, the Wampanoag’s side of the Thanksgiving story. 

The Wampanoag tribe held the tradition of giving thanks well before the first harvest festival in the 1620s that led to Thanksgiving becoming a nationally practiced holiday.

According to Wampanoagtribe.net, “It has been documented that our [the Wampanoag Tribe] Tribe has lived on the lands we still live on (called Aquinnah on the island of Martha’s Vineyard) for at least twelve thousand years! ‘Every day (is) a day of thanksgiving to the Wampanoag . . .(We) give thanks to the dawn of the new day, at the end of the day, to the sun, to the moon, for rain for helping crops grow. . . There (is) always something to be thankful for. .. Giving thanks comes naturally for the Wampanoag.'”

In fact, according to the site, the thanksgiving celebrations continue on to this day. There are specific times for celebrations that coincide with the changes of the seasons and harvest times. The celebrations including singing, dancing, and sharing food within the community.

But this isn’t the end of the story. Too often the Thanksgiving story is told from a Pilgrim point of view and not as it actually happened. The first Thanksgiving feast did not start with the Wampanoag people sitting down for a turkey dinner. In fact, according to “Indian Country Today,” the feast was not an event the native peoples were originally invited to join. It was thought that the Massasoit—the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader— got word that there was a lot of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village, and the native people went to extend aid to the Pilgrims. The natives were invited to join the Pilgrim’s feast though there was not enough food to feed the chief or his warriors.

As a result, Massasoit sent his men out. They brought back several deer which they presented to William Bradford—the chief of the English town. The giving of the meat symbolized a gift exchange as well. The festival in total lasted three days and consisted of eating all of the parts of the venison—and most likely maize bread, pumpkin, squash and other items.

Thanksgiving as we know it today is no longer considered celebratory for the Wampanoag tribe and other native people. Instead, it is considered a day of mourning.

According to “Indian Country Today:”

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. It is an annual tradition started in 1970, when Wampanoag Wamsutta (Frank) James was invited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give a speech at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival and then disinvited after the event organizers discovered his speech was one of outrage over the “atrocities” and “broken promises” his people endured.

On the Wampanoag welcoming and having friendly relations with the Pilgrims, James wrote in his undelivered speech: ‘This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.’

For the rest of the Indian Country Today article, read here.
For the rest of the Wampanoagtribe.net article, read here.