Does the Portrayal of Thanksgiving in Schools Reflect the Real Story?


TJ Hill, Staff Writer

The first Thanksgiving was held in November 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Mayflower traveled there to bring settlers from England. It was their first corn harvest which ended in success. Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast. The feast was shared between English colonist and the Wampanoag tribe, along with other Native American allies. In attendance were 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians. As for the colonists at the first Thanksgiving, there were mostly men and only 5 women in attendance (the rest had perished). At the feast, the colonists were outnumbered roughly 2 to 1 by the Native Americans. Bradford also held a 3-day festival for everyone. Unbelievably, during the first Thanksgiving, turkey was not even on the menu. The menu consisted of freshly killed deer, assorted wildfowl, a bounty of cod, bass, flint, and a native variety of corn harvested by the Native Americans. The Native Americans provided most of the food during the feast.

As children, we were taught that the first Thanksgiving was a peaceful feast between the colonists and Pilgrims, and how they enjoyed food. Many of us were also taught that the pilgrims were good people, which they were not. That is all we were told about Thanksgiving; schools mainly focus on telling us about the colonists and less about the Native Americans. In reality, the pilgrims showed up uninvited and without any notice. The Native Americans taught the colonists their ways of hunting, fishing, etc. They also welcomed them to their land as one of their own. The Pilgrims took advantage of this kindness. Schools do not speak enough about the many Native American lives that were taken by the settlers. It is also believed that the “first Thanksgiving” was not the first- in fact, Native Americans had been fulfilling this tradition before European Pilgrims showed up.

If teachers are going to teach the story about Thanksgiving, they should tell the whole story, because everything was not pleasant. The Pilgrims considered the Native Americans heathens. In teachings and retellings of the story of the first Thanksgiving, it is often omitted that the Pilgrims took over the Native Americans’ land even after the Natives welcomed them with open arms. Even after all the things the Native Americans did for them, the Pilgrims still stabbed them in the back. They also threw dirt on their Native culture. There was a lot of bloodshed that took place both before and after the first feast. The settlers went to their land for one main reason- to kidnap and sell Native Americans into slavery. They never had the intent to build a relationship with them. They treated the Native Americans very badly and brought with them smallpox and other diseases that decimated the native people who had no natural resistance against such diseases. Now many Indigenous people in America recognize Thanksgiving as a day of mourning, and acknowledge and protest the racism and oppression that occurred.