Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Resources for the History of Thanksgiving


In the United States, it is a common fall tradition in elementary classrooms to teach about the "first" Thanksgiving. Recently, I was talking with a colleague at BU about her daughter's "Pilgrims and Indians" project. Troubled by the inaccurate portrayal of the Separatists (Pilgrims) and Wampanoag people, we worked together on helping her daughter get quality resources to build her historically accurate project. My colleagues' daughter now has a much more accurate understanding of the Wampanoag way of life and a healthy obsession with learning more about the Wampanoag people.

Elementary and secondary students should know the whole history of Thanksgiving, which extends beyond the 1620s. It is true that there was a harvest celebration at Plymouth in 1621. It is true that Squanto (who had been previously kidnapped by English fisherman) and Massasoit helped the Separatists survive their first winter. It is true that the two groups lived in relative peace for many years. It is true that eventually, conflicts grew between the two groups and the Whites demanded that the Wampanoag eventually give up their guns. It is true that the Whites did not respect the Indians' way of life and issues of the Whites' cattle rampaging Indian villages were common. It is true that the English attempted to Christianize the Indians and "praying towns" were formed for this purpose. It is true that war would break out and Metacom/King Philip, the Wamponoag chief, would be killed. His head would later be placed on a pike at the entrance of Plymouth and remained for over two decades. It is true that in 1970, Wamsutta James was act to speak and then had his speech suppressed by the local officials holding the 350th anniversary celebration of Pilgrim's landing. This coincided with the first National Day of Mourning, where a group of American Indians protested their oppression by pouring red paint on Plymouth Rock and taking over the Mayflower II.


Below are a list of links that can help elementary and secondary teachers teach the whole story of Thanksgiving (several more were added in a 2020 update of this post):

Adult Books:

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (2020 Update)

New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of America

The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of America


Teen and Children's Books:

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People (2020 Update)

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (National Geographic)

Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving


Teaching Resources:

First National Day of Mourning

The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag (1970)

National Day of Mourning: United American Indians of New England

PBS American Experience: We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower
[Full Video]

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe: Historical Timeline (2020 Update)

Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda (2020 Update)

Zinn Education Project: The Politics of Thanksgiving Day (2020 Update)

Rethinking Schools: Rethinking Thanksgiving: Myths and Misgivings (2020 Update)

NPR: What Educators Need To Know About Teaching Thanksgiving (2020 Update) 

Age of Awareness: Decolonizing Thanksgiving Toolkit (2020 Update)

The New Yorker: The Invention of Thanksgiving (2020 Update)

Washington Post: Making Indian Headdresses in School Is a Terrible Way to Teach Thanksgiving (2020 Update)

History News Network: Top Ten Myths About Thanksgiving

National Archives: Thanksgiving as a National Holiday

Smithsonian: Thanksgiving

History Channel: Thanksgiving

Plimoth Plantation: Thanksgiving

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