Thanksgiving From the Wampanoag Tribe’s Perspective
In the United States, we trace our Thanksgiving celebration to an autumn feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. We are told the story of the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth on the Mayflower. We know about their harsh first winter and the fact that many of them died. But after some hard work, the Pilgrims were blessed with a bountiful harvest in just one year, and they invited the nearby Wampanoag to celebrate with them.
This story is told from the perspective of the Pilgrims. But what about Thanksgiving from the Wampanoag perspective? Did they accept the Pilgrims’ invitation just to be polite neighbors? Or did they have something to give thanks for too?
In fact, they did have something to give thanks for: everything.
“Prior to colonization, we considered ourselves so tied to the land that we didn’t think it was possible to be separate from it,” said Melanie Roderick, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe. “You can see that in how the word is used in our language. A certain ending that the word will get when it is viewed in this way by the people.”
Because of their spiritual tie to the natural world, the traditional Wampanoag belief is to appreciate and respect all things. This appreciation is demonstrated through a tradition of giving thanks that began much, much earlier than the “first” Thanksgiving feast with the Pilgrims.
According to Gladys Widdis, a tribal elder, “every day [is] a day of thanksgiving to the Wampanoag . . . [We] give thanks to the dawn of the new day, at the end of the day, to the sun, to the moon, for the rain for helping crops grow. . . There [is] always something to be thankful for. . . . giving thanks comes naturally for the Wampanoag.”
The Wampanoag I spoke to were well aware of the problems currently facing their environment. I heard about their concerns over the nearby Pilgrim Nuclear Station, and how the fishing industry is changing the ecosystem. However, their concerns did not translate into aggressiveness.
“You really want to save Mother Earth? Can we really save it?” said an elder Wampanoag as I was leaving. “Some things the Creator will just give you naturally. We really need to be quiet and and be still and listen to our surroundings to see what we can do.”
And then she told me to pick five things to be thankful for.
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