The Native Version
“Being Indian is an attitude, a state of mind, a way of being in harmony with all things and all beings. It is allowing the heart to be distributor of energy on this planet, to allow feelings and sensibilities to determine where energy goes; bringing aliveness up from the Earth and [down] from the sky, putting it in and giving it out from the heart.”
Brooke Medicine Eagle
You know that sweet story about the Pilgrims and the Indians, on that first Thanksgiving, sitting down together in peace, and feasting on turkey and yams? Well, according to the historian of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the native people in question, that is not exactly what happened. The Pilgrims were indeed celebrating the harvest—the 23 of them left after the killing sea voyage and first disastrous winter of their existence in the new world. They were celebrating by shooting guns and canons into the air, which alerted the nearby Wampanoag that something, possibly an attack on the colony by another tribe, was happening. So they sent a party of 90 warriors to see about it. When they realized that the colonists were simply celebrating their survival, they camped nearby and spent a few days hunting game for their own tribe. There was no happy holiday meal; but they had signed a treaty of mutual protection, and they were abiding by it. The story of the first Thanksgiving that we learned as children, and perpetuate today, was introduced into our “history” by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, as a morality story of what could happen when mortal enemies laid down their guns and reached across the divide.
Journalist, Gale Courey Toensing, conducted an interview with Ramona Peters, the Wampanoag's historian, for the Indian Country Today website, in November, 2012. Toensing asked Ms. Peters what Thanksgiving meant to her: “Thanksgiving is very important to me as a person. It's important that we give thanks. For me it's a state of being. You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You find out what [your gifts] are, and you cultivate them, and that gives thanks in action.”
Getting both sides of the story makes it more real for me, and honestly, more important. The prime takeaway was the treaty of mutual protection. The Pilgrims were illegal immigrants, and therefore, vulnerable. They needed help and protection, and the native inhabitants provided it long enough for these fragile foreigners to survive and prosper. There's a lesson in there somewhere about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
In the Spirit,