Native Heritage Month: Rethinking Thanksgiving

By Tiarra Braddock and Sharon Mejia

The month of November is usually highly anticipated because of one of the biggest holidays: Thanksgiving. It’s a holiday most Americans associate with Native Americans, Pilgrims and giving thanks. George Washington was the first president to designate Thanksgiving as a national holiday, but there’s a larger history behind the meaning of Thanksgiving.

In honor of National Native Heritage Month, officially acknowledged in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, Ithaca College hosted the event “Re-thinking Thanksgiving A Native American Perspective” on Monday, Nov. 14 in Emerson Suites.

Cultural educator and Native American storyteller, Perry Ground gave an interactive presentation on the overview of this misunderstood holiday.

Ground is a Turtle Clan member of the Onondaga Nation and he recounted the actual events of 1621 in Plymouth, the relationship between the English settlers and the Wampanoag, and how this story became American Thanksgiving.

Ground explained what influenced him to become a Native American storyteller and he said he wanted to go into some type of education.

“I could take these stories and turn them into a performance, but then communicate that message that communicate our values and beliefs that are important to us, Native people,” Ground said.

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There were approximately 50 people, staff and students, present at the event and most of them took part in the presentation. Ground kicked off the event with a 34-question quiz of true and false statements about what the audience thought they knew about Thanksgiving. The presentation focused on the Pilgrims, the Native Americans, the “First Thanksgiving” feast and the American holiday of Thanksgiving – all from a Native American perspective.

Ground revealed some myths and facts of Thanksgiving, which many people in the audience had to answer true or false. For example, Ground busted the common myth of Plymouth Rock and exposed the truth that the Mayflower did not land on a rock: the Pilgrims actually docked their ship in the water.

Another fact Ground exposed was the “First Thanksgiving” feast lasted for three days and there were more native people than Pilgrims present 90 Wampanoag and 53 pilgrims.

Sophomore, environmental studies major, Calvin Yohannan said that his initial perception of Thanksgiving was that it is an American holiday for people to come together and “be happy that we have a roof over our heads.”

Yohannan said his perception of Thanksgiving shifted throughout the event because of the story aspect.

“Stories are the best way of conveying things,” Yohannan said. “And it’s very interesting to see how stories over time develop and how quickly that can change an entire culture.”

At the end of his presentation, Ground spoke about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

“The ‘First Thanksgiving’ is a perfect example of peaceful co-existence between two very different groups of people,” Ground said. “It’s not just the idea of eating at family gatherings, it’s the idea of being peaceful with one another. And if that’s what we can take away from this holiday of Thanksgiving, then I think we can have a good holiday.”

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