This year, Thanksgiving may take on a more somber tone for those who would usually celebrate the fourth Thursday of November with family and friends. It is a fitting opportunity to reflect on the origins of the first “Thanksgiving,” and an opportunity to join the fight against the colonization of Indigenous people.
The Native American communities who lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts experienced a devastating plague epidemic that ravaged their population during the first wave of settlers. This sickness weakened the local Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) people immensely, and played a direct role in their decision to make peace with the Pilgrims to allow for their own survival. Thanksgiving was not a mutual coming together of both parties; the spread of disease brought on by the settlers almost decimated the Indigenous population. Once the epidemic began in 1616, it continued for 4 years. According to later accounts by traders, Pilgrims, and Native Americans (and confirmed by modern researchers), the epidemic wiped out as much as 90% of the Native American population in southern New England. Of the approximate 8,000 Wôpanâak people living near Plymouth in 1600, fewer than 2,000 survived by 1620. “Thanksgiving” was born from plague, fear of the Pilgrims, and additional concerns about the threat of powerful Narragansett Indians to the south, which prompted the Wôpanâak leader, Massasoit, to make peace and establish an alliance with the Pilgrims in the spring of 1621.
Today, the Wôpanâak people remain resilient, and are bringing their language back to life through the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.
We ask that you take a moment to reflect on the true history of “Thanksgiving”, educate yourself and others, and help fight the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples .
Here are a few ways you can support Indigenous communities this Thanksgiving:
1. Donate to help Native American communities fight the COVID-19 pandemic
2. Educate yourself and others on the true history of Thanksgiving
A Thanksgiving Reflection from the Bioneers Indigeneity Program by Alexis Bunten
3. #BuyNative this holiday season to support Indigenous artists and makers
4. Listen to Indigenous voices, in music, media and podcasts
5. End racist mascots and negative depictions of Indigenous/Native people and culture in the media