Changing the Narrative

By Lenore ThreeStars

Fall is so nice, except for the holidays.  I made it through Halloween with nary an Indian war whoop at my door, and then through the odious Columbus Day lie – thank goodness next year it will be Indigenous People’s Day.  But now, it’s almost time for grocery sack war bonnets, the stereotypical error that considers Native American Plains culture interchangeable with Northeast Native culture.  I almost made a fool out of myself one year when my granddaughter came out of preschool with colorful paper feathers on her head.  Dismayed, I asked the closest teacher, “what is that supposed to be?” and the teacher replied with a smile, “she’s a turkey.”  Oh.  Whew.

Last year, my grandson got in the car grumbling, “I had to be a Pilgrim all week.”  School taught him the myth of the persecuted Pilgrims but not the name of the indigenous Nation that helped the Pilgrims survive, the Wampanoag.

The Wampanoag call themselves “People of the First Light,” a Woodland culture of 67 tribal communities originally living along the coast of what is now Massachusetts and Rhode Island.   In an irony of history, Tisquanto (Squanto), a Pokanoet Wampanoag, had been captured by European slave trade, sold in Spain, and managed to return to his home village Patuxet , only to learn that his village had been devastated and deserted due to disease brought by European explorers.  The site was resettled as Plymouth by the Pilgrims in 1620.  Squanto had learned English and his indigenous value of hospitality led him to teach the languishing Pilgrims how to plant and survive in New England.  By the time the Pilgrims were in a position to celebrate their first harvest celebration, the Wampanoag had already celebrated five of their annual traditional celebrations, thanking Creator for the gifts of the maple tree, the seeds, the strawberries, fruits, green corn and the corn harvest.  Though the folkloric “First Thanksgiving” celebration may have occurred, within 50 years the incoming storm of more Pilgrim intolerance and the expansionist movement led to King Phillips War at great cost to the Wampanoag.  Today, the Wampanoag Nation is federally recognized, with 6 of the 67 Wampanoag tribal communities remaining.

So what should we teach our kids about Thanksgiving?  How about more of an understanding that all people are thankful for the same things, like family, food, faith and, community.  How about the fact that Native Americans are still here, not just in history.  There are 566 federally recognized Indian Nations in the U.S. and they each have their own culture.  For instance, the Wampanoag traditional foods (corn soup), homes (wigwams not tipis), language (Alkgonkian) and customs (Green Corn Festival) may be different from yours, but Wampanoag kids today enjoy the same things all kids do, like basketball and art.

Perhaps a meaningful act of community and thanksgiving would be to learn who the original host people are where you live – what is their story?  One thing we all have in common is prayer, so let us offer our prayers of thanksgiving to Creator God  in our own way, together.

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