Episode 203: The True Story of the “First” Thanksgiving

In this episode of The Reference Desk, Katie is bewitched with the true story of the “first Thanksgiving.”

American schools have long taught about the history of Thanksgiving with cringe-worthy pageants and re-enactments of happy pilgrims and Indians gathered around a table. In reality, the shared meal we’ve dubbed the “first Thanksgiving” was a pure coincidence of Wampanoag warriors joining in a meal they happened upon while expecting to find a full-scale battle. (why else would the woods be full of gunshots?!) The tenuous relationship between the colonizers and Indigenous people of New England quickly deteriorated after the feast, and what ensued was near total decimation of Indigenous life, land, and culture. After an accurate retelling of the accidental party, we share some suggestions on how to de-colonize your Thanksgiving celebration, as well as recommended books by Indigenous authors. 

Recommended titles (available in our bookshop):

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman

Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Eyes Bottle Drunk with a Mouthful of Flowers by Jake Sheets

There There by Tommy Orange

The Round House by Louise Edrich

1612: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Jake Swamp

We Are Grateful: Otashlihelgia by Traci Sorell

My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith


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