Shifting the Narrative of Thanksgiving: The True Story

Many of us associate Thanksgiving with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. That peaceful dinner did happen – once. However, the greater story surrounding Thanksgiving has been far overlooked and misconstrued.

Without taking away the essence of the holiday of gratitude, it is important to honor and be informed of the origin story. Knowing the truth, might spark ideas of how to incorporate an offering to our Native American allies during your Thanksgiving celebration or take greater action towards social justice in your daily life.

Image from – The Great Dying: New Englands Coastal Plague

The origin story began in 1614 when a band of Pilgrims sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Native Americans bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which basically wiped out the rest of the Native Americans who had escaped.

“The woods were almost cleared of those pernicious creatures, to make room for a better growth.” – Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana

When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Native man, Squanto. He had survived slavery in England and learned their language.  Squanto showed the colonialists how to grow corn and to fish, and he negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held the well-known feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.

In 1637 over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Peoples had gathered in Connecticut for their annual Green Corn Festival, original Thanksgiving celebration. On this day, a band of heavily armed colonial volunteers massacred these 700 Pequot Native Americans. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because in honor of the massacre.

19th century wood engraving of the 1637 slaughter of 700 Pequots, Granger collection (NYC)

After this horrendus massacre, the murders became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each horrendous mass slaughter. Finally, instead of celebrating after each massacre, George Washington proclaimed that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set for the feast. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War.

This massacre and those to follow set a precedent for normalizing colonization and mass murder, oppression and manipulation all throughout the US. The fictional history we’ve learned in school paints beautiful picture of peace when really, it was the day that established a long, painful history of Native American brutality.

This mythical story liberates American’s from experiencing a negative view of our country. We have been blinded from the truth and this is just one of thousands of ways we have been manipulated to believe that our country was founded on good morals and justice and continues to be spun that way. It is our duty as awakened citizens to know the truth and find ways to become part of re-balancing the oppression and injustices in our daily lives.

Here are some essential ways to be an ally to Native Americans on Thanksgiving (and beyond)


  1. Learn about inequalities that still exist within indigenous culture. Indigenous communities around the United States face major injustices every-day. Many Native Americans communities have higher ratesof alcohol abuse, suicide and unintentional injuries than the general population. Educate yourself on these social inequalities that Native American’s still face today to develop empathy, a better national perspective and to find ways to be a better ally on these issues.
  2. Decolonize your mind. Find the Sacred. This means to humble ourselves and accept our role in the greater social and natural ecosystem of the earth. It means to learn to embody and understand our interconnection with every plant, animal and human being. We must take responsibility for our every day words and choices because what we do, effects everything else. This is also a basic tenant of most Native American cosmologies.
  3. Take the time to learn about the indigenous history of where you live. Long before our lands were colonized, Native American’s were tending the lands we walk upon. Their history and spirit still remains in the land and must be acknowledged and honored. It is important to learn about the people, the history and the culture of the borrowed land we live on. There are maps you can find online to learn the names of the Indigenous Peoples that loved the land you live upon.
  4. Support Native American artists. Native American’s face strict penalties if they violate the Indian Arts & Crafts Act of 1990, which essentially says you have to be a member of a federally or state recognized tribe or certified as a Native artist by a tribe in order to sell items marketed as Native-made, or tribally-specific products. This makes it increasingly challenging for them to compete with cheaper, more easily accessible factory made items not made by Native’s. Next time you think about buying any crafts that look Native American, spend the extra time to purchase it hand-made from a Native person.

We often underestimate the power of truth. As we are exposed to authentic history, it doesn’t have to taint our joy or magic in Thanksgiving or other holidays. Instead, we can allow the truth to empower us and change us. We can choose to apply a greater sense of gratitude towards Native Americans, their struggles, the oppression they continue to face and evolve the way we think and act that supports decolonization.

How will you choose to honor the origin story of Thanksgiving Day this holiday season and beyond?