Thanksgiving Resources & Reflections from Mohegan Educator Rachel Sayet
By Guest Contributor Rachel Sayet (Akitusu)
Mohegan Educator/ Anthropologist / Adjunct Professor, University of Hartford
When we look at the history of this country, it is shown to us in a glorified way. We are told the settlers killed savage Indians in the fight for freedom. The only time Natives are talked about in a positive light is when discussing the “happy feast” that occurred at this “first Thanksgiving”, after that, New England Natives disappear from history. While this narrative has changed somewhat in recent years, for the most part it is still what’s taught in schools today.
The fact that the Wampanoag are never mentioned in discussions around the Thanksgiving holiday is the first issue I notice. In school we are taught the names of Winthrop and Winslow but never a mention of Wampanoag leaders like Massasoit or Metacom…
As Native people, our history is something we have to grapple with on a daily basis, land loss, genocide, loss of language and culture are all things that we struggle to revitalize, however most history books for children, and the American national narrative still do not even recognize our existence.
And so we gather, we protest, we pray, now is our time to do the work. To teach the true story of this misunderstood holiday.
As I told my students at University of Hartford, the entire fall season is a struggle for us as indigenous people. It begins with Columbus Day and then Halloween, where we encounter dozens of people dressed as pocahotties and then Thanksgiving. We have to educate each person about all of these issues because 9/10 Americans have never learned a thing about Native history. I recently talked to a schoolteacher who thought Narragansett was just a beer, and that is the norm, not the exception.
When we give thanks, or pray in a sweat lodge, we express gratitude for the fact that we are able to practice our traditions and beliefs, something that we were not even allowed to do for hundreds of years. In fact, our religious beliefs were banned until 1978 .
Whether we are Mohegan, Pequot, or Wampanoag we recognize that without those sacrifices that that our ancestors made we would not be here as modern-day nations.
So although, we have lost so much as native peoples we have to consistently give thanks for what we do have. And we do that by leaving gifts to the creator such as tobacco or spirit plates, or simply by saying thank you.
Traditionally, as indigenous people of New England, we had multiple thanksgivings, every season we celebrated the gift of the harvest. This includes, Corn Thanksgiving, Maple Thanksgiving, and Cranberry Thanksgiving to name a few. At Mohegan we call November the "hunting moon, ‘ Now is actually the end of the harvest season, which began with the green corn Thanksgiving back in August. But some gourds, squashes, pumpkins are still growing through this time. Winter green berries are best after the first frost. This would also be the time that we would begin drying pumpkins and cranberries from the summer months in order to prepare for winter. As you are celebrating the coming holiday with your family and friends, be sure to acknowledge the Native people of this region and remember that we are truly blessed to have access to foods year-round, enabling us to have a much easier time during these hard winter months.
suggested sources for accurate information on the Thanksgiving holiday:
"OUR"STORY: 400 YEARS OF WAMPANOAG HISTORY AT THE MASSACHUSETTS STATE HOUSE
Event: Thursday, November 1, 2018 - 9:00am to Friday, November 30, 2018 - 5:00pm
Thanksgiving History & Info for Kids (and adults)
Website: easy to grasp information from Plymouth Plantation with links to a virtual tour and more.
Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Article: from the Smithsonian Museum of the Native American Indian
“1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving” By Bruchac, Margaret M. (Abenaki), and Catherine Grace O'Neill, The National Geographic Society, 2001
Children’s Book: a children’s picture book for 3rd-5th graders.
Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth
Study guide: from the National Museum of the American Indian
Are You Teaching the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving"?
Article: about undoing stereotypes around Thanksgiving and Native Peoples
The American Experience: We Shall Remain: Part One After the Mayflower [dvd], 2009.
Video: first in a five part PBS series (purchase video for good quality).
More Good Booklists
Recommended books about Thanksgiving on the Oyate.org website
A list of 7 books for grades 4 and up, as well as other guides on books to avoid, how to tell the difference, and more.
Indigenous Reads for Children
This list of 14 recommended children’s books by Indigenous writers and illustrators was curated by The Conscious Kid Library and American Indians in Children’s Literature, in partnership with Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Most of these books do not focus on Thanksgiving, but are excellent, accessible resources to communicate true information about a number of Native American Peoples and topics.
Indigenous Recipes & Ideas for giving thanks
This Thanksgiving, Make These Native Recipes From Indigenous Chefs,
Article: Reflecting perspectives from numerous indigenous chefs including Sean Sherman of the Sioux Chef, and Hillel Echo-Hawk and Quentin Glabus, of the I-Collective. from The Huffington Post.
8 Ways to Give Thanks at the Table
Article: on The Table Underground
Listen to our podcast
The True History & Foods of Thanksgiving from 2017 - click below, or find where ever you listen to podcasts.
Do you have any resources you want to share?
Please post them in the comments below!