Native American Thanksgiving

“…but it was their way to give freely to those who had nothing.”
“It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all…”

(To find out who made those statements, read this article at

Ever since I took my first Native American Studies course, I have wondered how I should feel about celebrating Thanksgiving. Many Native Americans don’t celebrate it, because they feel that celebrating it could be interpreted as an indication that they are “thankful” for all of the negative things that have happened to them as peoples since the Pilgrims arrived on the North American continent, roughly 400 hundred years ago. As non-Indian children in school we usually learn the standard story about the first Thanksgiving, and celebrate it as a most glorious event. And while what we are taught about that event is mostly true, it is what we are not taught about what happened to Indigenous North American peoples in the ensuing centuries that causes us to miss the reason(s) that Native Americans might not be so keen on the holiday.

I still celebrate Thanksgiving, even as a graduate student in the MSU Native American Studies department; because to me the holiday is not about celebrating that specific historical event. For me, Thanksgiving has become a celebration of all of the things that I have to be thankful for, and there are many. Despite this, I do not begrudge my Native American friends the right to ignore the holiday if they so desire.

This semester I am teaching NAS-100 (Introduction to Native American Studies). One of my students found this article on the internet and posted it to the online discussion group that I set up for my class. It is by far the most succinct, least angry article on the subject that I have read to date. It touched my heart, because as I read it I was reminded of the Christian charity (love) that was shared on that first Thanksgiving. But read the article, because you may be surprised to find out from what direction that Christian charity was flowing: from the Wampanoag people to the Pilgrims.

Over the next 4 centuries, many Native American tribes extended similar charity to settlers, only to have the favor returned in decidedly un-Christian ways by the citizens and government of a so-called Christian country. I have linked to this article here because I see it as a great reminder to all of those of us who call ourselves Christians that the evidence of our Christianity comes from our behavior towards other human beings, not from the names we give ourselves. If it is true that “they will know [we] are Christians by [our] love for one another,” then we need to work harder at showing that love, I think.

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for many, many things. But mostly I give thanks to Native American scholars, teachers, writers, activists, filmmakers, and friends who work so hard at making sure the complete and true versions of history are told. When we ignore what they are trying to teach us, we lose out.
So, enjoy your turkey dinner, the gatherings of friends and families, and say an extra prayer that all of us will show the kind of Christian charity to our neighbors that the Wampanoags showed to the Pilgrims.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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