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What Does Thanksgiving Mean to Indigenous Peoples?

11/01/2022 | Holidays & Seasons, History

Many American families gather for Thanksgiving, a day to share food, family memories, and gratitude for both. While the arrival of early settlers and the colonization of North America is part of our shared history as Americans, it is important to learn and remember the full history of colonization and the reality that it included genocide, the theft of land, discrimination, and oppression.

Indigenous Peoples in America recognize Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. It is a time to remember ancestral history as well as a day to acknowledge and protest the racism and oppression which they continue to experience today. Since 1970 there has been a gathering at the Plymouth rock historic site in Massachusetts on Thanksgiving Day to commemorate the National Day of Mourning. The United American Indians of New England will host the 53rd Annual National Day of Mourning on November 24, 2022. Watch their website for livestreaming information on that day.

Watch this video from the National Museum of the American Indian.

This video from the National Museum of the American Indian provides good information and perspective to begin thinking about the meaning of Thanksgiving. It is hosted by Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), co-curator of the exhibit Americans. Paul discusses why the Thanksgiving story is so important to the United States’ image of itself as a nation.

Guide to Finding Books by Indigenous Authors

There have been a number of books published by Indigenous authors to share Indigenous perspective for both adults and children. First Nations publishes a list of essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the Native American experience.

Many of us here – as Native Americans, avid readers, activists for improving Native American economies and communities, and as direct participants in the Native American experience – believe that we are uniquely positioned to suggest this reading list,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts. “We attempted to include many facets of the Native American experience, as well as books and research reports that would be of interest to a broad variety of readers.

Take a deeper dive in our collection and online.

This Land Is Their Land

In our collection, two notable titles about Thanksgiving are, for adults, This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman, and for children, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Margaret M. Bruchac (Abenaki) and Catherine Grace O’Neill. (For more resources for kids see Talking to Kids About Thanksgiving.)

See our guide to finding books by Indigenous authors in The Library's collection or explore these online resources:

Learn about the people whose land you live on.

Native Land is an interesting interactive map. Enter your address and get an answer to "You are on the land of..." The map will tell you the name of the Indigenous People who once lived where you live. Besides curiosity, why would a person want to know this? The creators of the map hope to encourage discussion and increase awareness about Indigenous history and the diverse cultures of Native People. There is a teacher's guide to go with the map which is also helpful.