I’m from Rhode Island so, since childhood, Thanksgiving was a really big deal. We drew turkeys in schools by tracing our hands. We made pilgrim hats out of construction paper. We heard the story over and over again about how the friendly Indians had been invited to the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, where everyone shared their food and celebrated surviving the harsh New World winter. We went on field trips to Plymouth Rock and to Plymouth Plantations, a living history museum. It was great.
But then, of course, I grew up and found another side to this relationship between the Pilgrims and the Indians. I read books that were not approved by school boards. I listened to friends who had made a vocation of studying King Philip’s War. I got a different perspective about this First Thanksgiving and that whole period of our history. The only part of the story that seemed truthful was that some Indian tribes taught the Pilgrims what to grow in the New Land and that helped them survive.
The Pilgrims even learned how to make popcorn from the Indians!
So once I got over being kind of angry with the school department for lying to me, and got over being kind of sick from the real story of how everybody treated everybody else immediately following the First Thanksgiving, I wondered what Native Americans thought about Thanksgiving these days. Was it the same as their attitude about Columbus Day, a holiday most American Indians have nothing to do with? Did they all feel the same bitterness about that old Thanksgiving story as some members of East Coast tribes who justifiably hold an annual protest at Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving?
I live near the largest Indian Reservation in the United States. According to the 2010 census, the Navajo Nation, which includes most of northeast Arizona plus parts of New
Mexico and Utah, has a native population of 169,321 (this number doesn’t include non-natives living on the reservation). This is more than the combined total of the next nine reservations.
I am not a psychologist, anthropologist, or historian. I’m just a person who sometimes wonders about things. Sometimes I do a lot of in-depth research on a subject that interests me. This time I did not, mostly because to really understand this situation would take a lifetime of study. All I did was scan the internet, Facebook, and the Navajo newspapers. I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’m just sharing my impressions. It appeared most citizens of the Navajo Nation celebrated Thanksgiving just like the rest of America: Turkey, family, and football. And I found a recent (undated) Thanksgiving Message from the Leaders of the Navajo Nation posted on the internet. It says, in part:
“As Diné people, let us share our abundance with our neighbors and friends. Let us be compassionate, show kindness, express forgiveness and faith, all of which make our Navajo Nation a place of beauty and hope.”
Now, that’s the idea. From what I understand, this is the way the Diné try to live every day, not just on Thanksgiving.
Maybe we should still be learning from the Indians.
For more information: