As you may remember from elementary school, American Indians played a large part in the first Thanksgiving feast. But do you remember how Thanksgiving came to be? History tells us that in 1620 a group of Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. An unfamiliarity with the region, bitter cold weather conditions, inadequate clothing and little available food proved fatal to more than half the one hundred or so colonists. Witnessing the death of so many men and women, the Wampanoag Indian tribe began supplying the remaining Pilgrims with corn seed and teaching them how to hunt wild game. In the fall, the Pilgrims harvested a bountiful food crop. In an act of appreciation to the American Indians, Governor Bradford declared a celebration of thanks, which we now know as the First Thanksgiving.
The genuine act of kindness demonstrated by the American Indians helped the colonists survive in the new world…but with terrible consequences to the American Indians. As the number of colonists grew, the struggle of the American Indians began.
For hundreds of years, great forces have been working against American Indians. The vast lands which were once home to American Indians have been reduced to scattered reservations, which many people say are conditions comparable to third world nations.
There are fewer deer and wild game roaming the valleys; and because of dramatic weather conditions in the region, food sources like corn and other vegetables are more difficult to grow. To make matters worse, poverty in the region is the worst in America. A staggering 26% of American Indians are living below the poverty level. That’s double the national average. Unemployment is 35%-85%. With an annual income around $3,400, many American Indians barely have enough money to survive.
Many American Indians on the reservations are reduced to depending on others…just like the original colonists were 400 years ago. This tragedy is a sad testimony to life for American Indians in our grand land of plenty and opportunity. The Council of Indian Nations realizes we must extend our hand to our American Indian friends this Thanksgiving. We shouldn’t celebrate this holiday without thinking about them.
You might want to share your Thanksgiving by giving a donation to the Council of Indian Nations (CIN), P.O. Box 6038, Albert Lea, MN 56007. CIN will provide 16,000 Thanksgiving meals to Native Americans throughout the southwest and then fuel and more meals through the winter.
Thanksgiving is a great family holiday. We come together and enjoy our family. There are no religious trappings. It’s just a great day to savor a great meal with people closest to us.