Learning About Native Americans In the Contiguous 48 States
In preschool or elementary school in the USA, children first hear about the American First Thanksgiving with the proverbial Pilgrims and friendly Indians.
The legend is not the complete truth, but an introduction nonetheless to human development, discovery, and migration as well as to Indigenous Peoples in North America.
Thanksgiving is often a point at which children learn about Native North American Nations, information covering people indigenous to Western Hemisphere from near the North Pole down to the southernmost tip of Mexico.
The legends and propaganda that have grown up around the Plymouth Colony First Thanksgiving are inaccurate when compared to 17th Century white settlers' handwritten diaries held in museums around the Eastern US. They also do not reflect the fact that the Spanish held Thanksgiving in the South before the English attempted it in the Northeastern US. Finally, it does not reflect that the Native Americans held thanksgiving celebrations and ceremonies regularly during many months of every year for thousands of years into the past.
For a special National Geographic film about the harrowing life that the settlers of Jamestown led in 1607, look for "the Real Story of Jamestown."
The national Thanksgiving Day was changed to the 4th Thursday in November to allow more Shopping Days Before Christmas by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the lobbying efforts of the F & R Lazarus company in Columbus OH and others. Soon thereafter, Black Friday boosted seasonal sales, ushered in with Christmas Parades on Thanksgiving Day (Macy's New York) and the day after.
Put it all together and you have America and its interesting assortment of national symbols, the official and the popular. All are interesting and unknown to most schoolchildren.
The Plymouth Settlers' Diaries
- The settlers of Plymouth or Plimouth Colony were to have been transported elsewhere in the region, but were dropped off at Plymouth, because it was more advantageous to their sea captain.
- The settlers called themselves "Saints" and were poor people, but individuals outside their group and accompanying them were called "Strangers." The saints dressed in cheap brightly-colored clothing day to day. No black and white was worn - that came from a retail ad campaign by magazine editor Sarah Hale around 1840.
- The settlers brought barrels of beer with them, instead of crop seeds, flour, and other staples.
Portions of the First Thanksgiving day were cooperative and happy, but much of it was marred by the fact that the settlers who called themselves saints and did not know what a pilgrim was, brought beer to the New World instead of food and agricultural seeds. They thought that they would find crops with seeds already growing.
Sadly, a combination of drunkenness, show-off rifle shooting, and prejudice among a few that brought the days immediately after our first North American Thanksgiving to a tragic end.
The Eastern Woodlands peoples were the first of the Indigenous populations that settlers met when they landed in Eastern Canada and the Northeastern Coast of the future United States of America.
Native American Nations and Groups
Over 10,000 Years in North America
From about 10,000 - 12,000 years before the 2010s, when indigenous peoples had entered the New World across the frozen Bering Strait, to about 9,000 or 8,000 BCE, when they had traveled across the continent and to the Eastern Woodlands was a long struggle.
It had been a wilderness struggle, but a wilderness of plenty that they did not waste. When white or Eurocentrist settlers arrived, sought help, received help from, and in 1621 turned against the first Native Americans they met, it was unexpected and tragic.
By the end of the American Civil War some 250 years later, massacres on both sides ended in the slashing of Indigenous populations to a fraction of their former nations, the forced march of natives back to the west, barefoot in the snow during the harshest winter of the century; and more tragedies on both sides.
Southern and Southwestern US Native Nations had already suffered at the hands of other European settlers beginning in the 1500s.
The history of US Native Americans is not as happy as our elementary school stage plays for Thanksgiving would suggest.
The best parts of the First Thanksgiving with the Indigenous Peoples can be preserved in our National Holiday, for children, but at some point, they need to know all the facts. Even then, they can celebrate, add their own traditions, and pass them on. For example, The Ohio State University holds an Alternative Thanksgiving dinner with authentic dishes from 1621 every year.
The Contiguous United States or the Lower 48 contain many Federally recognized natives, some State-recognized-only, and some non-recognized nations.
State-only and non-recognized groups regularly apply for State or US Federal recognition in order to gain certain rights and financial benefits like minority scholarships. Regularly, new groups emerge that have not been addressed in historic or written materials anywhere. I find it difficult to stay ahead of the new emergence.
Some US States have approved organizations to seek out the history of indigenous peoples in their states and the current status of their descendants. For example, California is famously active in this work. New Mexico, Nevada and other Western and Southwestern States are prominent in this research, possibly because of the higher concentration of Indigenous populations in these states when compared with the rest of the Lower 48.
The National Geographic and Smithsonian Institution in partnership with IBM, along with their human migration work, are gathering stories and other data from Native Americans and other peoples around the world in an effort to eventually document every indigenous group that exists and perhaps some extinct tribes.
The American Far West
The Western States include a wide diversity of Native Americans and Metis, from those of the Pacific Northwest to those of the southern pueblo communities. Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah comprise this block of states. The indigenous peoples of the northernmost states are most like the Canadian Frirst Nations across he border.
In a simplistic comparison, the northern Native American groups tend to be more similar to Asian peoples and the central and southern groups more like those of Mexico, Pacific Islanders, and Indigenous communities in Central and South America.
Nations of the American Midwest and North Central States
Midwestern States include Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan,Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
North Central States include North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Abutting Canada, this block of states share some of the same First Nations peoples of the northern plains and prairies. For instance, the Cree People migrated back and forth across the Canadian border.
Indigenous Cultures in the Northeast
- A Guide to the Mohawk Nation Sacred Wedding Ceremony
An overview of the stages of a sacred wedding ceremony for Mohawk Nation couples.
- Native American Harvest Feasts Before Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving 10,000 BC. Native American Nations from the First Nations in Canada to Native Americans in the USA to the Indigenous Peoples in Mexico and Central & South America are related to the global Circumpolar Peoples and their own traditions
- Traditional Mohawk Nation Daily and Ceremonial Cloth...
What did Mohawk families wear from 1800 - 1900? While they had their own traditional clothing, they readily added European pieces to their wardrobes as they made friends with settlers.
Indigenous Cultures of Southeastern USA
- Recipes From the Everglades - How the Seminole People Cook
The Seminole Nation is traditionally from Florida and enjoyed many of the foods found naturally in the area. One unique aspect of the Seminole community is that it was made up of different nations, especially Creek Nation, that welcomed Africans and
- Inglish, P. Your Thanksgiving Resource - Fact, Fiction, Food, and Fun. Hubpages.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS
Jeana on June 16, 2019:
Thank you for your fact filled hub on the true Thanksgiving. Everyone should read this and demand history books be rewritten. Again, thank you
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 17, 2014:
Thanks very much for reading and wanting to know more facts about Thanksgiving!
Blackspaniel1 on November 17, 2014:
What a detailed story you have here. I had heard tings were not as we were taught about Thanksgiving, but you went way back. I would say you got to the root of things, and it is an interesting read.
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 09, 2011:
Thanks for the kind words! - I'm always looking for more information, because there is sooooo much - still plenty I do not know and all a great adventure to find.
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on December 09, 2011:
I just came across this hub and I love it! Thank you for paying homage to our First People and calling to light some of the traditions and misnomers about Thanksgiving. Bravo!
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 17, 2011:
I like two Thanksgivings - Canadian in October and US in November, but I like to have the celebration at least three months - Sept-Oct-Nov.
WesternHistory - Yes, fascinating and I'll never be done with it, so always something to to look forward to writing!
WesternHistory from California on September 17, 2011:
Excellent hub. Thanks. The study of Native North Americans is a fascinating subject. One culture that stands out is the pueblo Indians mostly found in New Mexico. These Native Americans differed from many of their cousins by being very settled in one locale. On the other hand there were the Comanches relatively nearby in Texas who led a mostly nomadic life.
James on February 21, 2011:
Great hub with helpful info, thumbs up :)
Support Med. from Michigan on February 01, 2011:
Seems the Native Americans have the right idea to have thanksgiving celebrations many months of the year. What a way to bring family together, to share and to care. An interesting culture. Voted and rated.
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 08, 2010:
#daydreamer13 - Thanks very much for reading! This topic will never be complete. So much to find out about.
daydreamer13 on December 08, 2010:
Great topic! Well written! Well done!
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 06, 2010:
Here's a piece of the story form National Geographic:
[In 1846, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a magazine called "Godley’s Lady’s Book", campaigned for an annual national thanksgiving holiday after a passage about the harvest gathering of 1621 was discovered and incorrectly labeled as the first Thanksgiving.] -- from "1621 A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac with Plimoth Plantation", 2001, National Geographic Society.
>Apparently others added their own views at this time for image management's sake and had the Saints (settlers) dressed in black and white with big shoe buckles and big Bibles, when what they had was big kegs of beer. The Wampanoag Nation today does not celebrate Thanksgiving as a tribe and remembers the bloodshed. Very sad.
Hello, hello, from London, UK on December 01, 2010:
Thank you for giving such a feast of information. As you must have realized I can't get enough of it. I think we still should and could have learned an awful lot from these great and proud people. It also shows, according to your hub, how distorted the writing of history is.
Donna Oliver from Midwest, U.S.A. on November 24, 2010:
Thank you for such an accurate history of the Thanksgiving Holiday! I enjoyed reading the research you have collected and written for this hub. The facts are timely for both young and old. Living in Oklahoma for the past few years has had a huge impact on our families Thanksgiving traditions!
charkamman from portugal on November 23, 2010:
Wow, that was fun to read!
Thanksgiving is very much related to the church for us Dutch.
Last year I had Thanksgiving in Kulyab - Tajikistan (neighbouring country of Afghanistan) with a Canadian friend and my family. Could write a hub about that I guess!
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 23, 2010:
@K J Page -- I read the diary pages mentioned; and some other historical materials - these latter suggest that the story of the Pligrims, etc. was devised not too long after, in order to encourage others to move to the New World with the good people of Plymouth. I'll look for that reference again.
K J Page from Pacific Northwest on November 23, 2010:
It makes one wonder who sat down and wrote the story of the first Thanksgiving - and why. Did someone envision people so different working and living together in harmony? What would our lives be like without that 'First' Thanksgiving?
I believe that along with the story we should know and acknowledge the truth as it is.
Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 23, 2010:
It's good to know what really happened on both sides of the question and from that, to form better traditions for Thanksgiving and other Holidays. We can make them what we want them to be! Happy Thanksgiving, all!
SteveoMc from Pacific NorthWest on November 23, 2010:
Nice hub on different cultures, thanks. I grew up in Alaska and have many friends from diverse cultures, it is great to have a more unbiased look at these cultures.
Earth Angel on November 23, 2010:
Blessings of Thanksgiving
to you and for you
Thank you so much for your clear, in-depth, fair recap of how we came to celebrate one of our largest U.S. Holidays! We should never lose sight of how tragic and unfair the 'saints and settlers' were to our Native brethren!
Hundreds of years later we still have not learned the lessons! In the U.S. there is an ingrained habit of 'changing the facts to make ourselves look good' and then calling it the 'truth!'
Thank you dearest Patty!
Blessings always, Earth Angel!