Myth, History, and Turkey

Erstwhile’s Alessandra Link offers up a brief meditation on Thanksgiving. 

For many Americans, Thanksgiving is about history. It’s a revealing, idyllic chapter of America’s past. Children across the U.S. learn about a historic feast between New England Indians and Pilgrims that took place in the fall of 1621. They cut feathers out of colored paper. They re-enact a lasting, inaccurate story.

“First Thanksgiving,” Jean Louis Gerome, Library of Congress

In reality, the history of Thanksgiving is often distorted by a much more powerful myth. This Thanksgiving fable parades as historical fact, is populated by stereotypes, and lacks the kind of complexity and context that are central to the historian’s craft.

So this year, in addition to giving thanks and spending time with family and loved ones, consider critically engaging with the histories of Native Americans. A great place to start is Dennis Zotigh’s essay on Thanksgiving. Zotigh (Kiowa, San Juan Pueblo, and Santee Dakota) gives important (and brief) historical background on Squanto, the Pilgrims, and the nature of Wampanoag-Pilgrim relations both before and after the now-famous autumn feast.

I’m not suggesting that we forgo the tryptophan-induced comas or much-needed family time, but I do hope that thoughtful conversations about Thanksgiving and colonial U.S. history can work to weaken an enduring American myth.

2 thoughts on “Myth, History, and Turkey

  1. Pingback: Indigenous History with Erstwhile | Erstwhile: A History Blog

  2. Pingback: More than a Word, More than a Holiday Meal: Conversations for Native American Heritage Month | Erstwhile: A History Blog

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