By David Sheridan
The tale of the first Thanksgiving Day, taught for generations in our schools, turns out to be pure myth.
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Fortunately, as Teaching Tolerance’s Maureen Costello reports, “Today an increasing number of educators across the country are embracing the truth and teaching the real story of Thanksgiving.”
Lhisa Almashy is one of them.
“I love teaching the real story of Thanksgiving,” says Almashy, a high school ELL teacher in Lake Worth, Florida. “My students really get into it, and it’s a great springboard to teaching them the real history of indigenous people in America.”
For starters, the Pilgrims did not invite the Wampanoag people to that first Thanksgiving to share their bounty with them. The Pilgrims’ first harvest in the new world was quite meager. The Wampanoags in fact brought most of the food, including turkeys, ducks and venison. The Pilgrims invited the native people in order to sign a treaty, granting the Pilgrims the land at Plymouth. Nor did the Pilgrims sit at a big long table, side-by-side with the native people, whom they considered “ignorant, heathen savages.”
Within two years after that first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, almost every Wampanoag was dead—either from the European invaders’ diseases or their musket balls.
But the Pilgrims did not mourn the passing of the Wampanoags, even though they owed their survival to the native people’s generosity. To the contrary, Mather the Elder, a Pilgrim leader gave “thanks to God for destroying the heathen savages.”
What’s more, the Pilgrims didn’t stop with the Wampanoags. A few years after the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim militia raided a village of the Pequot people and massacred every man, woman and child in it; Governor William Bradford was overjoyed: “It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they [the Pilgrim militia] gave praise thereof to God.”
Not to be outdone, the Pilgrim preacher Increase Mather asked his congregation to celebrate the “victory” and thank God “that on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell.”
Indigenous peoples advocate and documentary photographer Matika Wilbur addresses NEA
It is clear that the Pilgrims we honor in the Thanksgiving myth and in “America the Beautiful” (“Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride”) looked upon the indigenous people not as human beings like themselves, but rather as inferior beings and “spawn of the devil.”
Using materials provided by Teaching Tolerance, Lhisa Almashy has her students examine and discuss the documentary evidence as well as the indigenous people’s view of Thanksgiving. “Students organizing and analyzing their thoughts—now that’s education!”
And Lhisa Almashy strives to keep her lesson fresh. “This year I am going to connect the real history of Thanksgiving to Standing Rock, where the Indian Nations right now are defending their water resources.”