Thanksgiving and our Native Americans

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rooshell McCullough
  • 21st Space Wing Equal Opportunity Office
On the fourth Thursday of every November, we as Americans celebrate the national holiday Thanksgiving. This day focuses on honoring the early settlers, and their harvest feast, which we know to be the "First Thanksgiving."

However, long before settlers came to the United States' East Coast, the area was inhabited by several Native American tribes. The native people knew the land well and had fished, hunted and harvested for many generations.

The Native Americans decided to stay with the early settlers, whom we call the Pilgrims, for some time. It is said the wheat the Pilgrims had brought would not grow in the new rocky soil. They needed to learn new ways to live in this different land. The kindness bestowed by the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims to survive. They hunted and brought them meat to eat. They taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. They taught them which plants were good for medicine and those which would be harmful.

On one particular day, the settlers were sent out to hunt for a harvest celebration. It is believed the Native Americans heard the guns and alerted their leader who thought the Pilgrims might be preparing for war. The Native Americans went to the settlement to see if the war rumor was true. During their visit, they realized the hunting was due to a harvest celebration. At that time the Native Americans also sent out men to hunt deer to join the feast and for three days, the Pilgrims and native men, women and children ate together. The meal consisted of deer, corn, fish and roasted meat, not too far from today's traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Although this time was a special friendship agreement between two very different groups of people, the friendship and peace did not last. Before long the clashes of culture and the differences in beliefs surfaced, creating a hostile environment for both cultures. Many of the newcomers forgot the help the Native Americans had offered to them. Mistrust started to grow and their friendships weakened.

A national day of thanksgiving was not acknowledged until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared November the month to give thanks for "general blessings." In August of 1990, President George H.W. Bush also declared the month of November as the National American Indian Heritage Month.

When reflecting back to this period, it is clear in spite of the differences which eventually drew them apart, the Pilgrims would not have prospered without the aid and teachings of the Native Americans. As a result, November has not only been reserved for thanksgiving but a time to recognize our Native Americans and their culture. For that reason, while we are all sitting around the dinner tables in the company of our beloved this Thanksgiving, let us also remember the huge part Native Americans played in why we now pause for an entire day to be thankful.