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Thanksgiving is celebrated across the United States and often taught in schools as a day of gratitude in which the Native Americans* and Pilgrims came together to share a meal. Growing up, I remember reenacting the false story of the coming together of these two groups by making appropriative headbands with feathers or buckles and breaking bread together in the classroom. The story was told that Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock to flee religious persecution and were greeted with open arms by Native Americans who then shared a meal. When in fact, the Wampanoag nation, the group of Indigenous peoples who live at Plymouth Rock, experienced what became known as “The First Thanksgiving” in 1621 very differently than the story most of us know.

Fast forward to 1637, Thanksgiving was declared by Governor John Winthrop in Massachusetts as a way to “celebrate” the massacre of over 700 Indigenous people, the Pequot nation in Connecticut, contributing to the ongoing genocide of Indigenous communities.

Today, many Indigenous communities commemorate the Day of Mourning, which was started in 1970 by Frank James, a member of the Wampanoag tribe. James was asked to give a Thanksgiving speech in Plymouth and was asked to send his speech in advance. He was censored and told he was not to comment on the violence, plagues, and genocide against his community. Instead, he gave his speech to hundreds of Indigenous community members across various tribes, declaring the fourth Thursday of November the Day of Mourning. The plaque on Cole Hill in Plymouth can be seen below.


Photographed By Sandra Hughes, July 17, 2014


Where do we go from here?

While many of us gather with our families and friends on Thanksgiving in gratitude for the people around us, we must acknowledge the harm and violence that is consistently committed against Indigenous peoples. We encourage you to amplify the factual stories of the Wampanoag and other Indigenous communities who are still here and present on this land that is rightfully theirs. We need to confront the reality of history and determine our path forward, pushing back against the ongoing oppression of Indigenous communities.

We encourage you to utilize the following resources to learn more and to engage your communities in the conversation.

*The language I heard growing up was “Indians,” which is not a term used within Indigenous communities. Organizations have an opportunity to update the language it uses for external and internal communication to better honor the multitude of Indigenous nations who occupy this land with both strength and resilience against oppression that that they have continued to experience for generations.

 History of Thanksgiving and Present Day Stories 

A Thanksgiving Message From Seven Amazing Native Americans
Why These Native Americans Observe A National Day Of Mourning Each Thanksgiving
The Real Story of Thanksgiving
The Harsh Truth About Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving | Native Americans | One Word
Native American Girls Describe the REAL History Behind Thanksgiving
All My Relations Podcast: ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving
Native Americans Gather In Plymouth To Mourn The Violent History Behind Thanksgiving

Resources About Decolonizing

8 Ways to Decolonize and Honor Native Peoples
Decolonizing Nonprofit Organizations
Decolonizing Nonprofits

By Dr. Rachael Forester
Senior Consultant
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Justice 
Nonprofit HR

Sources used for blog

Deloria, P. (2019, November 18. The invention of Thansksgiving. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/25/the-invention-of-thanksgiving#:~:text=In%201841%2C%20the%20Reverend%20Alexander,half%20thoughts%20is%20history%20made.

Holohan, M. (2023, November 13). How to tell kids the real story behind Thanksgiving. Today. https://www.today.com/parents/how-tell-thanksgiving-story-your-kids-t200911


Hughes, S. (2014). National day of mourning [Photograph]. The Historical Marker Database.

Mancall, P. (2021, November 24). The ‘first Thanksgiving’ story covers up the all too real violence in early America. Time. https://time.com/6123111/first-thanksgiving-story-covers-up-real-violence/

Martin, P. (2021, November 25). Native Americans gather in Plymouth to mourn the violent history behind Thanksgiving. GBH. https://www.wgbh.org/news/local/2021-11-25/native-americans-gather-in-plymouth-to-mourn-the-violent-history-behind-thanksgiving

Preethi. (n.d.) The real history of Thanksgiving for kids: Thanksgiving resource guide for families. Local Passport Family. https://www.localpassportfamily.com/2020/11/the-real-history-of-thanksgiving-for-kids-thanksgiving-resource-guide-for-families.html

Shantz, T. (Executive Producer). (November 20, 2020). ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving.  [Audio podcast episode]. In All My Relations. All My Relations Podcast. https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com/podcast/episode/4a4fe11b/thankstaking-or-thanksgiving



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