Ramona Peters: Sharing a Wampanoag story of Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, by Jennie A. Brownscombe. Image from Wikipedia

Ramona Peters, the historic preservation officer for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts, encourages the celebration and teaching of Thanksgiving:
In elementary school children hear for perhaps the first time about “the Indians who met the Pilgrims.” Unfortunately, American teachers often seem comfortable just saying Indians ate dinner with the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. Students are unlikely to learn the name of which indigenous nation hosted the first English settlers, which is a shame.

But rather than trying to get the historical facts correct, I'd like for those who teach the younger grades to focus more on the sentiment of being thankful. Gratitude is the most powerful Thanksgiving story, from my perspective as a Wampanoag. Our country will benefit socially when young children grasp gratitude in a real way beyond ritual.

Dressing children up as pilgrims, Indians and turkeys is far removed from honoring a Thanksgiving ceremony. Native people don’t appreciate others culturally cross-dressing and mimicking what they believe we are like. Stereotypes like the tomahawk chop begin at an early age because of this ill-thought pageantry. In Wampanoag culture we have four major thanksgiving ceremonies for each season every year and several smaller thanksgivings together for greeting such things as strawberries, green corn and spawning fish. Nothing in our ancestors’ world was taken for granted.

But by middle school students are ready to learn about the Wampanoag as a nation of people who were friendly enough to accept refugees/pilgrims into their territory. The Wampanoag also saw to it that these foreigners were fed and left in peace. Each village in Wampanoag territory was expected to feed its own people including the new English village. We taught them not only to plant but which foods were healthy to harvest at what time of the year.

Get the Story:
Ramona Peters: A National Holiday to Simply Express Thanks (The New York Times 11/25)

More Room for Debate:
Esther Storrie: An Inquiry-Based Education Approach to Thanksgiving (The New York Times 11/25)
Robert Tracy McKenzie: Does Thanksgiving Even Belong in Schools? (The New York Times 11/25)
Richard Pickering: To Understand the Past, Visit a Living History Museum (The New York Times 11/25)

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