A Native American Perspective - Educational Resource for Teachers

  • Thanksgiving, A Native American Perspective

    Some people from Shinnecock do not celebrate Thanksgiving at all.  Even though we are thankful, it is also a Day of Mourning that we refrain from celebrating. In 1640, colonists came by boat to what is now called North Sea. The Shinnecock people were already living in wickiups (or wigwams) there and its place- name for centuries was “Towounk” or “Towd,” translation: wading place. Additionally, Shinnecock territory stretched west to what is now Mastic and east to East Hampton, north to the Peconic Bay and South to the Atlantic Ocean.

    Shinnecock people considered the earth our Mother who cannot be sold. It would be like selling the air or selling the ocean... an absurdity. The chief of the tribe, Nowedonah, and the rest of the Shinnecock villagers greeted the small boatload of immigrants from England and allowed them to live near where Southampton Elementary School is now. The English renamed the area Old Town and built a Meetinghouse there. A road near the school is called Meetinghouse Lane. The newcomers had limited supplies and were cold and hungry upon arrival from Massachusetts. The Shinnecocks, a peaceful and humane people, fed the foreigners, taught them how to survive the elements, plant corn, hunt deer, whale and fish in a territory that was brand new to them, but had been the home to Shinnecocks for thousands of years.

    There is sadness on Thanksgiving Day because so much was taken away from the Shinnecock tribe. The English invited more and more people to live in the Shinnecock homeland. As hundreds of English began pouring in, houses, farms, barns, meeting houses, churches, fences, treaties and laws went into effect taking away almost all of our places that we previously lived, planted, hunted, gathered, produced wampum, protected, cherished and prayed. Within ten years of English arrival and colonization, our indigenous territory was barely recognizable.  We faced severe hardships such as imprisonment, slavery, sickness, and many of our ancestors died.  It is further viewed as the Day of Mourning because the first official “Day of Thanksgiving”, proclaimed in 1637, celebrated the massacre of 600 Pequot Indians in colonial New England. 

    Denise Silva-Dennis

    Thanksgiving Poster from the National Museum of the American Indian

    Information about the Wamanoag People.  Available in English and Spanish
    password required. 

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