“We want real history to be told in schools. It hasn’t been pretty and we shouldn’t put it too gruesome in the textbooks, but kids need to know what really happened during and after the first Thanksgiving.”

According to the Wampanoags, the indigenous people who welcomed the pilgrims from Europe 400 years ago, there were no turkeys. And no Indians with headdresses either. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the tribe was not even invited to that first harvest feast in 1621. When those religious refugees—they were persecuted in England—first celebrated Thanksgiving 400 years ago, things looked very different. than the family celebration celebrated in the United States today.

For the Wampanoags, who helped the Pilgrim Fathers survive that first year, it was the beginning of genocide, the occupation of their country and the erasing of their culture. What is a national holiday for the rest of America is the National Day of Mourning for the Wampanoags and other indigenous tribes.

“We are the first people of this country. And the memory of what happened can be painful. We are marginalized and erased. Sometimes we feel invisible. But we want to show the people that we are still here, we are not disappeared,” said Herring Pond Wampanoag President Melissa Ferreti.

In their clubhouse she is explaining her deerskin skirt. This afternoon, during the National Day of Mourning, as the Natives call Thanksgiving, she will recite a prayer for their ancestors and give a short speech honoring their country with which they feel so connected.

She’s a little nervous because it’s her first time. “I especially want to emphasize that our forefathers did not let their oppressors in like a bunch of naives. I want to dispel the impression that the English were superior to us, that they would have given us a better life. The opposite is true. We helped them .”

Forced assimilation

The Wampanoags have lived in the area around the Cape Cod Peninsula in the state of Massachusetts for at least ten thousand years. They subsisted on hunting deer, bears and moose in the forests, and fishing for herring and trout. They also traded with Europeans since 1524. When they saw the ship Mayflower arrive with women and children on board in 1620, they quickly understood that their relationship with the Europeans would change forever.

They helped the newcomers through the first difficult year, but there was no sign of gratitude. The Wampanoags were only present at the harvest festival that first Thanksgiving because someone shot his musket into the air and they thought war had broken out. They took five deer and probably cranberries. That was the last party together.

Like other Native American tribes, many Wampanoags died of disease and genocide. The colonizers introduced a pray-or-die policy: those who did not convert to Christianity had to flee or be killed. Their common land was divided, they had to pay taxes and the children were sent to boarding schools, where their hair was cut and they were no longer allowed to speak their language. A forced assimilation under the motto ‘Kill the Indian, save the man’.

Still, the elders of the tribe have trouble retrieving their original language because they were forced to forget it. A teaching program has now been set up to teach the children words. But the tribe wants more: “We are still not recognized as a tribe by the federal government. Colonization laws were introduced with colonization. As a result, we miss out on support and, for example, we only received the corona vaccine much later than our brothers and sisters in other countries. tribes that are recognized. It is wry that we, the original inhabitants of this land, are not recognized.”

Not only the indigenous people walked through the streets of Plymouth today, also the people who call themselves descendants of the Pilgrims walked in procession behind a drum through the city. According to them, both versions of history can coexist. “Most of the atrocities happened after the first harvest festival, later. Those things were excessive and that needs to be acknowledged,” said Paul Jehle of the Mayflower Society.

Cheryl Doherty, also of the Mayflower Society, hopes the two groups can eventually walk the streets together. “I would also love it if they could be a part of this. We’ve invited them in the past.”

Not the correct history

In recent years, there has been a debate in the US about the origins of the country. History, as it is now often taught in American schools, is told from the point of view of the first European migrants. They are said to have set foot at Plymouth Rock in 1620. A myth. This denies that the English landed in Jamestown as early as 1607 and the first black slaves arrived in 1619.

The Wampanoags hope that in the future Thanksgiving will not only be celebrated, but also commemorated. “We are seeing that slowly changing. Two years ago, the Plymouth Council gave us back a piece of land that also contains the graves of our ancestors, and there is talk of a greater focus in education on our history. The times are fast.” change, it becomes more inclusive,” says Ferreti. “But we’re not there yet.”


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