Thanksgiving and the Wampanoag People: Native American Culture in the Past, Present and Future

"First Thanksgiving" Art from Smithsonian.com (Bettmann / Corbis)

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

One of the hallmarks of living in a democratic society is idea that the voices of all citizens can be heard. Diversity is one of the core values in a democracy. The United States is made up of many different types of people with a variety of cultural backgrounds. We can take this Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to learn about First Nations and the important role they played in American history and in present times.

Often the narrative we learn about the first Thanksgiving is overly simplistic, historically inaccurate and censored. We hear a good deal about the Pilgrims coming to North America for religious freedom (Which of course was true). But we also learn that the Pilgrims wore austere black clothing with shoes and silver buckles. This was not true at all. Their clothing was much more colorful and cheerful. Furthermore, it is often thought that Europeans and Native American share a mutual reverence for the Thanksgiving holiday. In reality, the holiday for the Native Americans is a reminder of betrayal and blood shed by the Europeans.

In social studies classes when we learn American history it is often Eurocentric, but Native American history is often a greatly overlooked part of the discourse. After all, Native American history is American history, when accurately taught. The Thanksgiving season is a good time of year to get a greater understanding of native American culture.

Many people do not realize that there are currently 573 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States. There is a wide range of diverse Native American cultures and languages spoken today in North America. There are roughly 150 Native American languages still spoken in modern times and many of the old traditions are still maintained on reservations (Sovereign tribal lands).

Furthermore, there is not a great deal taught in public schools about those Native Americans who already lived in the Plymouth Rock region before the settlers came. The tribe that the European settlers feasted with on that fateful day in 1621 were called the Wampanoag Indians (Also more correctly written as Wôpanâak). Often when we think about Native Americans or First Nation peoples we think about history and the past only. But the Wampanoag are alive and well today. During the 1600’s the Wampanoag were several tribes that were loosely aligned, but today many are a part of two federally recognized tribes; the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head in Massachusetts. At the time the Pilgrims arrived there were approximately 40,000 Wampanoag people, but today as a result of genocide and disease there are only about 4,000-5,000 Wampanoag Indians. Even though the Indians rescued the Pilgrims from starvation and exposure when they first arrived, the Europeans went on to still systematically massacre them for their land and resources.

Social studies classrooms are the ideal place to teach students to value other cultures and people different from themselves. A unit or lesson that teaches youth about the past and present of the Wampanoag Indians is an important part of the larger conversation about the value in diversity. This curriculum can give them an understanding and appreciation of the past, present and future of Native American peoples. Below are a number of resources and lesson plans teachers can use to further educate  students about Native American culture.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

SAMPLE LESSON ONE:

Social Studies Standards

Ohio Grade Eight Social Studies Standards
Theme: U.S. Studies from 1492 to 1877: Exploration through Reconstruction
EXPANSION:
Content Statements:
11. Westward expansion contributed to economic and industrial development, debates over sectional issues, war with Mexico and the displacement of American Indians.

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)- Standard I
Culture: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

Objectives:

  • Students will learn several aspects of the history of a specific Native American tribe.
  • Students will familiarize themselves with a Native American language that is spoken in the United States today by a large group of people.
  • Students will learn several words from the language of a particular tribe.
  • Alternative Objective:
    Students will learn several words from from a nearly extinct Native American language.
    Students will learn strategies and processes in trying to vitalize an extinct language.

Summary:

Have students explore a particular Native American language today that is still spoken. A good example would be the Apache language which is still spoken by over 14,000 people or the Navajo language, spoken by nearly 150,000 people today.  Students could learn important words from the language, they could learn the alphabet and be introduced to the idea of learning a language that is indigenous to our country.
NOTE: Students can also choose a nearly extinct language to learn such as the Clallam in Washington (Only five speakers), the Coeur D’Alene in Idaho (Only 40 speakers) or the Coos in Oregon (Sadly only one known speaker left).

Suggested Assessment:

Students can create several artifacts that demonstrate what they learned about the Native American language. Examples include:

  • Collaborating with the art teacher and having students do some calligraphy using the Native words.
  • Students can have a short conversation using some of the Native words.
  • Students can describe themselves or a friend using the Native words.
  • Students can create a personal letter using some of the Native words.
  • Here is a resource that can help students get started with the project:
    The Endangered Languages Project
    http://endangeredlanguages.com/
  • Indigenous Languages Spoken in the United States (by Language)
    http://www.yourdictionary.com/elr/natlang.html

SAMPLE LESSON TWO:

Social Studies Standards

Ohio Grade Eight Social Studies Standards
Theme: U.S. Studies from 1492 to 1877: Exploration through Reconstruction
EXPANSION:
Content Statements:
11. Westward expansion contributed to economic and industrial development, debates over sectional issues, war with Mexico and the displacement of American Indians.

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)- Standard I
Culture: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

Objectives:

  • Students will learn aspects of the history of the Wampanoag Indians.
  • Students will learn the culture and current state of the Wampanoag Indians.
  • Students will learn several key words from the Wampanoag language.
  • Via the Internet, social media and the teacher’s assistance, students will contact an individual from the Wampanoag nation.

Suggested Assessment:

Assessment One:

In collaboration with the art teacher
students can create artwork or cultural artifacts that hearkens back to Wampanoag culture and history. The work should reflect their knowledge of Wampanoag culture and history. This could include an illustration, digital art, photography, a short film, poem or song.
Assessment Two:
When many people think about Native American dwellings they think of teepees, but the Wampanoag dwelt in thatched huts called Wetus and longhouses. Students can collaborate with the art teacher to create drawings, sculptures or small replicas of Wampanoag dwellings.
Assessment Three:
Students will contact an individual from the Wampanoag nation and create digital pen pals with other youth from the Wampanoag nation. They could choose from a variety of media resources including: Facebook, Messenger, twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, Email, Google Hangout, Skype or Email. This project can get students involved in efforts to resurrect dead or nearly extinct languages.
Students can visit this site to find contact information for representatives from the Wampanoag tribe.
https://www.plimoth.org/

Videos/Documentaries on Wampanoag History and Culture

Wampanoag Cultural Preservation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmisO7pdMW4

The Wampanoag Indians and Thanksgiving- Video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH_KylBA-qU

We Still Live Here: Black Indians of Wampanoag and African Heritage
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkJ6p8G0V2Q

Resources  and References

Wampanoag Homesite
https://www.plimoth.org/what-see-do/wampanoag-homesite

Wampanoag People
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Wampanoag

Wampanoag History
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wampanoag

First Thanksgiving (National Geographic)
https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/history/first-thanksgiving/

1620s Daily Life: The Wampanoag and the Pilgrims (Fictional Dialogue with Wampanoag and Pilgrims.)
https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/1620s-daily-life/

Federal Registry (Bureau of Indian Affairs)
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-07-23/pdf/2018-15679.pdf.

Most Common Native American Languages (by number of speakers today).
http://www.native-languages.org/most-spoken.htm

North American Indian languages
https://www.britannica.com/topic/North-American-Indian-languages

7 Most Popular Native American Languages in U.S.
https://tinyurl.com/ya77ujhy

List of Indian reservations in the United States
https://tinyurl.com/ydfq3cac

Maps of United States Indians by State
http://www.native-languages.org/states.htm

More Lesson Plans

Native American History Lesson Plans:
http://www.discoveryeducation.com/teachers/free-lesson-plans/native-american-history.cfm

Native American History and Culture Lesson Plans
https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/collections/teaching-content/native-american-heritage-0/

 

27 Comments

  1. Very informative article. It is amazing to think that there are so many Native American tribes in the US. This indeed is a part of our history that has been neglected.

  2. Reema Alrashed

    1.
    In the same way, the Native American culture analysis based on the past, present and future relationships have been effectively mentioned in the article that has helped to learn about the different thoughts that Native American history has on the U.S and how it has made difference when it comes to the learning and understanding about culture.
    2.
    It also relates to the study of culture which we have studied in the course as well while learning the past and present conditions of the Native Americans.
    3.
    The teachers can use these articles to implement cultural competence within the classrooms. They can also encourage and promote the students to learn and respect other cultures.

  3. Kelsey Hiller

    1. I really enjoyed reading this article. I think you made very clear points. I agree that Social Studies/ History should be the class that students learn about others. It is important for everyone to be seen and for everyone to understand backgrounds other than theirs. This was a real eye opener for me.

    2. Throughout the course we talked about racism and how people may be judged because of the way they look or where they come from. We explained how it is important for everyone to be seen and not feel like they are ‘invisible’. This article points out that students should be taught to value others cultural backgrounds throughout the course of school.

    3. These resources could be used to create different lessons for classes studying each topic. Students could have the opportunity to read each site/article and summarize and pull out key ideas from the passages.

  4. 1. This article was very eye opening to me because I have never heard of the tribe you discussed. I agree with the point that every tribe should be discussed that way we can understand more of the backgrounds associated with Thanksgiving and that are present in the world/US today.

    2. This relates to the idea that there is more to situations than we know or think we know. There are many different backgrounds that are present in the world today and like discussed in our book, they are often forgot about because they are considered to be the majority culture or background.

    3. The resources provided can help teachers to educate students, so that students are more informed on other things that just the majority group. I believe as a future educator it is important to be the one to change the idea and promote the idea that everyone is equal and that one group/culture isn’t better than any other.

  5. I like this article because it gives me even more ideas on how to embrace and love diversity in the classroom. People, especially in america, are from all over the place and there are many different types of people currently living here. I would love to use this lesson plan in my classroom to educate students about native Americans and diversity– especially around the Thanksgiving holiday.

  6. I really like this article because it gives me great ideas on how to teach my students to embrace the diversity that happens all around them in life, inside and outside the classroom. Most students can step right outside the door of their schools and see the numerous different cultures that make America so diverse. Like most have mentioned above I would use this in my classroom around Thanksgiving to help teach the students about diversity and how to embrace that we all are different.

  7. I found this article to be very insightful as well as interesting! Yes, I couldn’t agree more with the aspect of diversity being one of the core values in a democracy; it is a necessity. This article is important and connected to the Education course of racism and sexism because it details the negligence of the education of the native Americans. The attached teacher resources are very fun and insightful way in order to help social studies teacher reestablish the necessary components into the curriculum.

  8. Aaron Gullett
    1. “Social studies classrooms are the ideal place to teach students to value other cultures and people different from themselves.” I could not agree with this more. I do think that today, we as teachers should be teaching out students about the different values and beliefs of other people. Teaching them to have an open mind regarding things they may or may not believe in. I think the lesson plan would be great to use in an elementary classroom to get the students to start thinking about others as human beings and for where they came from.
    2. I think tis article really connects with what we talked about in our most previous class, when we discussed racism. How people are judged by how they look, what they wear, and where they came from. We need to start think of people as a person, not based anything about where they are from or what they look like.
    3. I think the resources could be a great inclusion in the classroom setting. Students could take the opportunity to do a jigsaw read, where each student or group has a different one, and do a small presentation on it for the rest of the class to learn from it as well. This is a great way to show our students that no person is greater than the next.

  9. Caitlyn Rose

    1. My opinion on this article is that it was very informative. The real history of thanksgiving or as you would say, the pilgrims is something lost in our schools and history classroom. I see this as an important part of our history that seems hard for me to understand why it is overlooked.
    2. This article relates to our class when you talk about teaching in the classroom. Although the classroom is the ideal place for the students to learn “other cultures and people different from themselves”, we learned how this is something some public schools lack. What is thought is enough to allow students to pass, or nonopinionated based morals.
    3. I think your lesson plan regarding Native American language is something that could be very interesting not just in a history classroom, but in schools that other something like Spanish, French, or sign language. In incorporating native American history with learning new languages could be something very exciting, especially around Thanksgiving.

  10. Caitlyn Rose
    1. Your thoughts and opinion on the issue covered in the article.
    My opinion on this article is that it was very informative. The real history of thanksgiving or as you would say, the pilgrims is something lost in our schools and history classroom. I see this as an important part of our history that seems hard for me to understand why it is overlooked.
    2. Connections to something we talked about in class.
    This article relates to our class when you talk about teaching in the classroom. Although the classroom is the ideal place for the students to learn “other cultures and people different from themselves”, we learned how this is something some public schools lack. What is thought is enough to allow students to pass, or nonopinionated based morals.
    3. Comment on the teacher resources and how you can use them in a classroom or educational setting.
    I think your lesson plan regarding Native American language is something that could be very interesting not just in a history classroom, but in schools that other something like Spanish, French, or sign language. In incorporating native American history with learning new languages could be something very exciting, especially around Thanksgiving.

  11. 1. This article was enlightening on what really happened with the first Thanksgiving. I learned a lot of facts that I didn’t know. I wish that the Pilgrims weren’t portrayed in such a way that almost idolizes them for helping the Indians when they ended up massacring so many.
    2. In class, we had a lesson taught about the first Thanksgiving by some of my classmates who gave some of this information; such as the Indians being the Wampanoag tribe and that the Pilgrims helped the Indians survive.
    3. I love the original twist of the lesson letting the students get creative with calligraphy, designed teepees etc. This lesson would be used around the Thanksgiving holiday to talk about what really happened during this time and inform students about the past of the Wampanoag tribe and how they are still around today.

  12. Kimberly Rockwell
    1. This article was a great read and very educational. I agree that it is very important to teach the First Thanksgiving with truth and accuracy. Many people are probably not aware of all of the tribes that are still around today. The history is still happening.
    2. My group taught a lesson to the class on the First Thanksgiving. We tried to give insight and truth to the lesson. AS you stated, Native American history is American History, and we tried to show that in our lesson.
    3. I love the idea of having students learn a language of a Native AMerican tribe. WHat a great was to keep a language and history alive. I think the students would really enjoy an activity like this. I’ve seen students learn Chinese calligraphy and really get into it, so Im sure they would love this activity.

  13. 1. I found this article very eye-opening in the facts behind Thanksgiving compared to how it is typically viewed. We are taught exactly as mentioned above. The friendliness of the pilgrims and indians are what we hear about. We spend time doing art activities that involve us creating Native American headbands and pilgrim hats. As I was growing up I do not learning about the civilization that they had back in the day beyond hunting and gathering.
    2. This made me think about when we had a lesson taught by our peers about the first Thanksgiving. While filling in the what I know section, I realized how little I knew. Due to the lack of responses from my peers, it seemed that others may have been taught similarly about this topic.
    3. I enjoyed seeing the resources because of the lack of teaching on the topic of Thanksgiving. The assessment options are a nice extra as well. Sometimes I feel that teachers struggle to teach a unit on Thanksgiving correctly because of the lack of resources they have to focus on that topic. This provides a convenient way to get ideas that teach more than “how to design a pilgrim hat”. I really like the first lesson where the students are to study a Native American language that is still spoken today. This opens them up to learn more about cultural aspects of languages spoken. This can be used in the classroom by assigning different students to research or sign up for different languages to research. They can then share to the class or share as groups what they found.

  14. 1. I found this article to be an excellent overview of the first Thanksgiving, as well as an informative look into Native American history. As with many other topics, Native American history is definitely an area that needs to be more thoroughly discussed and analyzed in social studies classrooms today.

    2. One topic that we discussed frequently in class was what should be taught in social studies classes. Without a doubt, Native American history should be given more coverage in curriculum today. As was discussed in the article, Native American is American history, and the two really should be taught together in that manner.

    3. I found the idea of having students learn phrases in Native American languages to be particularly interesting. I am sure students would enjoy any activity involving it, and it would provide them with a first hand experience of Native American language and culture.

  15. 1. This article was an excellent and accurate overview of the first Thanksgiving, and Native American culture in general. I really enjoyed reading it, especially the portion about the many Native American groups that are still here today. Additionally, it was very interesting to hear just how many different Native American languages there are.
    2. One topic we discussed in class was the debate about what should be taught in history and social studies classes. As you stated in the article, American history and Native American history are one in the same, and I agree that there should be much more emphasis on Native American history in today’s classrooms.
    3. I really enjoyed the lessons where students would learn phrases of different Native American languages. I feel like this would be an extremely immersive lesson for students, that would give them a firsthand experience with Native American culture.

  16. Mariem Soud
    1). The article was very informative and I understand how important it is to acknowledge this part of our history. I remember learning this censored version of and not knowing what really happened until I was much older. It’s not right to teach our history all softened up especially if we want to make a change.
    2). Something thats stuck out to me that schools have never been a politics free zone. We learned about this in class, politics play a part in our education and always have. This topic makes that apparent since the real events weren’t taught to us for a reason.
    3). Having students do calligraphy and learn native languages is a great idea. Its very creative and something I think they would enjoy.

  17. Trevor McMullen

    1. This article is awesome. I personally do not celebrate thanksgiving because of the genocide of native americans that followed. It is very important that as our education system becomes more progressive, that we begin to teach subjects like that with different cultural perspectives. Changing Columbus Day to National Indigienous People’s day was a step in the right direction.

    2. This article connects to diversity which we talk about in class on a weekly basis. We also discuss where public schools are failing to educate which pertains to this article.

    3. I could use this article as a resource to get students thinking about diversity and help them also understand genocide throughout history. I could also tie it into a current event such as the Trump administration taking 321 acres of land from this same tribe.

  18. I really enjoyed reading this article and learning more about the true history of the First Thanksgiving. I agree with your statement about how “Often the narrative we learn about the first Thanksgiving is overly simplistic, historically inaccurate and censored.” I believe this so being true as well. I also liked how you pointed out that there isn’t a lot of information taught about the original Native American Tribes that were already living in Plymouth. I think this connects to the study of multicultural education and even with our racism discussion. I could absolutely use these resources in my classroom during a lesson. I personally love the National Geographic cite, as well as the websites on different Native American Tribes. I think that could be a neat idea to use these websites to allow students to explore and learn about the different tribes.

  19. This article is great, it gives many ideas on how to love diversity more. People are from all around the world and I even know many different types of people from different places. This really gives a great lesson on native Americans that I didn’t even know and I would love to learn even more! In grade school, I learned about the pilgrims and Indians and we would even make hats with feathers on them. I really hope schools are still teaching children this because it was awesome to learn and I still remember it!

  20. This article describes “Thanks Giving” much different than it was taught to me in school. The history of thanksgiving is more dimensional than I knew. It is also very interesting to me that there are so many Native American tribes still in the United States today that I had no idea about. As a future educator it is also really awesome to learn more about things like this to teach my students.

  21. Reading this, I’ve noticed that we have two different views on Thanksgiving, which I know that the point of reading this article is to see the narrative of this tradition from a different perspective, but it’s an astonishing difference. I’ve never known pilgrims to wear black clothes and shoes with silver buckles, to me it’s more like feathers and a whole lot of beads. With that being said, the most compelling part of this article is that there are so many Native American tribes and languages that are still striving, despite the steady decline in the Wampanoag people. With access to this article, as a future teacher, I’m going to focus more on the variety of ways that Thanksgiving is explained to students, and make sure that I don’t miss a detail.

  22. I found it so interesting how schools misinform students to shield them from the harsh realities of how their favorite traditions came to be. While I understand that you should not teach every gory detail to first graders, they should not be filled with wrong information. They need to learn what really happened so that they can understand that it was wrong, learn a lesson, and move on. It is unfair to teach others that Native Americans were savage people that harmed Pilgrims and each other. They still live in America and should be honored and valued for their rich culture.

  23. It is very important for soon-to-be teachers to realize the importance of teaching every culture, European, Native American, and whatever else they see fit. I did not learn about the Wampanoag People until last year as a freshman at NKU I took a American History class and it actually was all about America, not just the Europeans. The family of these tribes might still live in America so it is important that they hear about their ancestors in school also.

  24. I loved reading about the First Thanksgiving. I also was intrigued by the stereotypes that they mention about the Pilgrims. I had no idea that Pilgrims didn’t wear black clothing with shoes and silver buckles. I had always thought this was true because of the stereotype that people made about them. Their clothing was actually colorful! I also have an immense amount of respect for social studies classrooms and teachers. It is so important to educate yourself on cultures and people who differ from you. I really enjoyed this article.

  25. I like how in the article it talked about social studies not really being taught in schools. I think that when social studies is taught to kids in school it teaches them about the many different cultures that are different from themselves. Teaching social studies to students about the Indians from long ago to help them better understand diversity. This can teach them there. understanding from the past, present, and future.

  26. This article was extremely informative and gave several informative facts as well as examples of how we can apply cultural diversity inside of the classroom. From the beginning of your article, you start off strong and tell the story of what actually happened with Thanksgiving. Many view this holiday as a time for celebration as to what we are thankful for and celebrate the bringing together of two people, however, (as you mentioned) this in fact not correct. For the Native American people it is a reminder of the betrayal of the pilgrims taking from them and killing their people. I loved the fact that you have reminded your audience of the importance of this so we don’t make those same mistakes twice.

  27. It is very interesting to learn how our typical idea and outlooks on the traditions actually are. I always assumed pilgrims to be the typical outfit all in black. This is very informative in letting students know the other ways that Thanksgiving played a role. This would be a good document for students to learn with the typical idea of Thanksgiving.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*