The arrival of the Mayflower in Plimouth in 1620, and the Pilgrims’ feast with Wampanoag Indians a year later, are recalled each November when we celebrate Thanksgiving. But what actually happened at that three-day feast, and how did the narrative change over time?
In 2021, host Suzanne McCabe posed those questions to Chris Newell, an award-winning educator and author, and a proud citizen of the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine. In this episode, Chris returns to talk about Native American Heritage Month and what it means to him.
Later, listeners can hear the original conversation about Chris’s acclaimed book for children, If You Lived During the Plimouth Thanksgiving. With help from Wampanoag scholar Linda Coombs, Chris offers young readers a fuller understanding of how we came to celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, as well as the toll that colonization took on Indian tribes. In the discussion, Chris and Suzanne were joined by Katie Heit, a senior editor at Scholastic and the editor of the What If book series.
In 2021, Smithsonian Voices spotlighted If You Lived During the Plimouth Thanksgiving.
In this Nation article, author Rebecca Nagle explains what’s at stake in Haaland v. Brackeen, a case before the Supreme Court that threatens to overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.
Chris Newell, author, If You Lived During the Plimouth Thanksgiving:
“English is a foreign language. Our languages are actually the original languages of this landscape.”
“When we teach about Native peoples . . . we start in the present to make sure people understand that these cultures are still here. They are still valid, and they are still just as valuable to the future of this country as they were during colonization.”
“The biggest issue we’re facing right now is a challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act. This particular case before the Supreme Court is a big deal for all tribes in the United States because it could affect the way the U.S. looks at the sovereignty of our nations.”
“What we call Thanksgiving today didn't exist necessarily in the seventeenth century, and you learn that in the book…. I give people a more real picture of how our country actually came to be. There is some good, but there’s also a lot of bad and ugly.”
“It’s about looking at these histories, being critical of them as human beings, and saying where things went wrong so that we can learn from them and create a better collective future for all of us.”
“I wanted to make sure that in the book the Wampanoag people were being centered within their own historical narrative. That involves including the complexity of life before 1620.”
“The 1621 feast . . . became a seminal moment of the creation of the country. And it’s a very beautiful feast of Native people and colonists getting together. But as much as we have lionized and lauded the story in history, it was so unremarkable to the English that they actually only wrote a paragraph about it.”
It wasn't until President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year. “The [Civil War] still raging. The North was winning. Abraham Lincoln was in charge of the Union Army, and they were thinking, ‘What do we do after the war is over? The Southern states are going to still be part of this country. How do we bring all these people together?’ There was a lot of pressure on Abraham Lincoln to find a way to heal from the bloodiest war on this landscape ever.”
→ Special Thanks
Producer: Bridget Benjamin
Associate producer: Constance Gibbs
Sound engineer: Daniel Jordan
Music composer: Lucas Elliot Eberl
→ Coming Soon
Dr. Karen Mapp on Family-School Partnerships