Teaching about the Theme of Thanksgiving and the
Relationship Between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags
Dr. Ava L. McCall
● Children's Books
● Children’s Periodicals
● Web Sites
● Teacher Resources
Arenstam, P., Kemp, J., & Grace, C. O. (2003). Mayflower 1620: A new look at a Pilgrim
voyage. Washington DC: National Geographic.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is embellished with photographs taken of
Mayflower II, a recreation of the original Mayflower, with historical interpreters
portraying the original passengers and sailors who traveled to the new world on the ship.
It explains reasons why the Puritans or Separatists came to the new world, some of the
challenges of the voyage, how they spent their time on the ship, and their first activities
once arriving in the new world. The text also describes the Puritans’ robbery of
Wampanoag homes and graves and their lack of respect for Native people. It asserts the
longevity of the Wampanoag’s existence in America and the diseases brought by earlier
European explorers which decimated the Wampanoag village in Patuxet, named
Plymouth by the Puritans. The authors endeavor to provide a balanced perspective on the
Puritans arrival in the new world.
Brown, M. W. (Ed.).(1988).Homes in the wilderness: A pilgrim’s journal of Plymouth Plantation
in 1620.North Haven, CT: Linnet Books.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The text contains a simplified version of a journal
by William Bradford and others who came to America in 1620, explore Cape Cod, and
then build their settlement at Plymouth. It also portrays the pilgrim writers’ views of
Native people as “savages” who felt justified in taking corn belonging to Native people as
a sign of God’s good providence, in entering Native people’s homes and taking contents,
and in digging up Native American graves and taking away the “prettiest” items. At the
close of the text, the journals portray a pilgrim perspective on encounters with Samoset
Bruchac, J. (1996).The circle of thanks: Native American poems and songs of Thanksgiving.
Bergenfield, NJ: BridgeWater Books.
Elementary. The text is a collection of thanksgiving prayers of 14 Native nations to
illustrate that thanksgiving among Native people is not limited to one day, but is part of
every day. The poems are based on traditional Native American songs and prayers. The
Mohawk thank Mother Earth for caring for them, the Papago give thanks for rain, the
Cherokee express thankfulness to plants for their medicines, the Kwakiutl thank cedar
trees for its wood to make baskets and black bears for food, and the Pima thank the wind
for its healing power. In the notes at the end of the text, the author elaborates on the
meaning of each Native nation’s poem.
Bruchac, J. (2000).Squanto’s journey: The story of the first thanksgiving. San Diego: Silver
Elementary. The author, a respected Native author, briefly describes Squanto’s
experiences with being taken by English fur traders as a slave to Spain in 1614 and
eventually helping the English survive in Plymouth. After being freed from slavery,
Squanto returned to England where he learned the English language. English traders
asked Squanto to accompany them to the New World to help solve conflicts between
English traders and the Wampanoag. When Squanto returned to his homeland, he
discovered most of his people, the Patuxet, one of the divisions of the Wampanoag’s, had
died from disease. However, rather than take revenge against the English, Squanto was
willing to share the land and taught the English how to plant food, hunt, and fish to
survive. According to the author, it was Squanto’s assistance that enabled the English to
have the food they served at the feast. The author’s note provides helpful background
information on the research completed for the text and a glossary clarifies some of the
Colman, P. (2008). Thanksgiving: The true story. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Middle school/teacher resource. The text is informational and is the result of the author’s
research into the origins and traditions associated with Thanksgiving. She portrays
different claims for the first Thanksgiving held in the U.S. and the link between
Thanksgiving and harvest festivals and days of thanksgiving for special events or a
general thanksgiving. The author also describes the results of her investigation into Sara
Josepha Hale’s campaign to establish the fourth Thursday of November as the national
Thanksgiving for Americans, which was officially established by Congress in 1941. The
most interesting chapter explains the “Pilgrim and Indian” story and how it became the
prevalent Thanksgiving story. However, she offers different interpretations of the Pilgrim
and Indian interaction in 1621, claims that no “Pilgrim and Indian” Thanksgiving story is
included in children’s history books until the late 1890s when Native people were no
longer a threat to European American settlements, the importance of schools in
disseminating the “Pilgrim and Indian” Thanksgiving story, and the appeal of the story
for European immigrants. The author notes that a group of Native people observe a
National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts on Thanksgiving Day. The final
section of the text reviews traditional foods, activities, and meanings associated with
Thanksgiving based on historical research and a survey of 183 people. Overall, the text is
a valuable contribution for educators to think more deeply regarding the origins and
purposes of national holidays.
Davis, K. C. (2002). Don’t know much about the Pilgrims. New York: HarperCollins.
Upper elementary. The author uses a question and answer format to clarify
misconceptions and provide realistic descriptions about who the Pilgrims were, how and
why they came to America, and what happened to them once they arrived. However, no
sources are cited in the text. The author clarifies that Pilgrims both stole corn from the
Patuxets and benefitted from Squanto’s help with growing, gathering, hunting, and
fishing for food. The text describes the treaty between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims,
which led to peaceful relationships between the two groups for more than 50 years. It also
clarifies that the “first Thanksgiving” was really a harvest festival or feast, which Native
people had celebrated for many years in the Americas. Thanksgiving became a national
holiday in 1863.
Dorris, M., (1994).Guests. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is historical fiction and the author is
Native American concerned about misconceptions about Thanksgiving. He offers a very
different perspective on the possibility that “guests” (Pilgrims) might have shared a
harvest meal with Native people (the Wampanoag) when the new people first arrive to the
area and are hungry. It is also portrays a very unflattering portrait of the guests. The story
is told by Moss, a young Native American boy, who is anxious to become a man, find out
who he is, and earn a new name. However, his father has invited guests to share the
village’s harvest meal because he knows they are hungry, and it is only proper to invite
them since they have enough food for them. The author explains some of the culture and
values of the Native people and the guests’ lack of knowledge about them. The Native
people value hospitality, but don’t show discomfort around strangers even if they feel it.
They believe in the importance of talking to strangers by telling stories despite any
language difference. The stories may help strangers feel they are welcomed and related to
Native people even if they are not. Cultural expectations around the harvest meal include
the practice of guests always receiving the first serving of food; the expectation that
guests bring their own eating utensils and gifts to the village; and if guests speak, they
should remain seated, speak softly, and avoid eye contact with the Native people. The
narrator also describes the “guests” as wearing many clothes, huddled together into a
small group, and apparently distrustful and unhappy in their role as guests. When one
guest speaks, he seems to invite the Native people to a feast, but wants the Native people
to bring the food because the guests do not have any. The Native people are shocked at
this expectation and view the guests as expecting a great deal from them, but give little in
Goodman, S. E. (1999). Pilgrims of Plymouth. Washington DC: National Geographic.
Lower elementary. The simple text is embellished with photographs taken at Plimoth
Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It portrays a very
positive perspective on Pilgrim women, men, and children and their daily activities, but
acknowledges they received help from their “Indian neighbors” who taught them to fish
and grow corn. The author seems to encourage readers to find similarities between
Pilgrims and themselves.
Grace, C. O. & Bruchac, M. M. (2001).1621: A new look at thanksgiving. Washington, DC:
National Geographic Society.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is embellished with beautiful
photographs taken from the living history museum of Plimoth Plantation and the
interpreters who re-enacted the 1621 harvest gathering among the Wampanoag and the
English colonists. The authors encourage readers to question traditional views of
Thanksgiving, offer critical perspectives on the Pilgrims’ treatment of the Wampanoag,
and provide background on Wampanoag culture and history. The text portrays the
gathering between the Wampanoag and English colonists as a harvest celebration,
clarifies how Thanksgiving became a national holiday, and how Native people view the
national holiday. Overall, the text has been highly recommended as a reliable text on
Harness, C. (2006). The adventurous life of Myles Standish and the amazing-but-true survival
story of Plymouth Colony. Washington, DC: National Geographic.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The author provides a lively interpretation of the
reasons why the Pilgrims left England and then Holland for the New World and the many
challenges they endured during their journey, and their struggles to survive once they
arrived. She also sketches in the historical context of the time period, including political
and religious changes, wars, and health conditions. Myles Standish was a soldier whose
primary responsibilities seemed to be protection of the Pilgrims, teaching them how to
protect themselves, and serving as “Captain-General” of the tiny Pilgrim army. The text
includes details of the Pilgrims’ lives in England and Holland; what they brought with
them to the New World; how they decided where to settle; the Mayflower compact; the
deaths during the first winter; efforts to build houses and other common buildings during
the first year; their interactions with Samoset (a Pemaquid sagamore or chief),
Tisquantum (a Patuxet), and Massasoit (a great Wampanoag leader) and how Tisquantum
taught the Pilgrims to live from the land; the clothing the Pilgrims wore; and a drawing of
the New Plymouth colony. The “first Thanksgiving” is described in only one chapter,
which includes the author’s speculations about the food served, but asserts that
Massasoit’s hunters contributed five deer and that Myles Standish led his troops in a
military parade and showed off the largest canon. Readers could speculate about the
purpose of this demonstration of military strength. The text contains a timeline of world
events during Standish’s lifetime, 1584 - 1660, a list of people who sailed on the
Mayflower, a diagram of the ship, resources used in preparing the book, and additional
print and websites readers can consult for further information.
Koller, J. F. (1999).Nickommoh! A thanksgiving celebration. New York: Atheneum Books for
Elementary. The author makes the case that the first Thanksgiving did not occur after the
Pilgrims arrived in the New World, but was a traditional harvest celebration of the
Narragansetts in New England. Using some of the language of the Narrangansett people
of Rhode Island today, the author describes a typical Narrangansett thanksgiving to
celebrate the harvest prior to contact with Europeans. The author’s note provides
additional background about the Narrangansett’s Nickommoh and the glossary explains
the Narrangansett terms used in the text.
Lasky, K. (1996).A journey to the new world: The diary of Remember Patience Whipple. New
Upper elementary/middle school level. The diary is fictional, but based on historical
research. The main character portrays the perspective of a Pilgrim girl who traveled on
the Mayflower and settled at Plimoth in North America. Her descriptions of Native
people are consistent with other Pilgrim perspectives, but refers to Native men by their
“Pilgrim” names. She places no blame when Pilgrim men take Native people’s corn or
give Native guests liquor. However, she does question the limited role Pilgrim girls have
at this time. One of the last diary entries is a traditional depiction of the first
Thanksgiving, with the Pilgrims providing a feast for 90 “Indians.”
Peters, R. M. (1992).Clambake: A Wampanoag tradition. Minneapolis: Lerner.
Upper elementary. Peters, a Wampanoag, provides some of the historical background
information on the Wampanoags of southeastern Massachusetts, including how they met
their need for food prior to the invasion by the Pilgrims. The text also portrays how one
Wampanoag boy today learns about the clambake tradition, as a way of maintaining some
of the significant Wampanoag cultural traditions. The author’s background as a
Wampanoag makes the text reliable.
Sewall, M., (1986).The Pilgrims of Plymouth. Atheneum, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Upper elementary. The narrator of the text seems to be a Pilgrim speaking from this
perspective, and the author cites sources for quotes in the text. It explains the difference
between Pilgrims who came to America to worship freely and “strangers” who came to
America for wealth. The narrator describes the landing at Cape Cod where they explored
and took corn seed stored in baskets in the ground, although they would later pay the
Indians for it. The text clarifies why they decided to settle at Plimoth, their first focus on
building the Common House and other dwelling houses and shelters, and the pervasive
sickness that killed half the community the first winter. The majority of the text describes
the roles for Pilgrim men, women, and children to meet the needs of the community, but
also includes some description of their encounters with Samoset, Massasoit, and Squanto.
Squanto becomes their “helpful friend” who teaches them how to plant corn, and they
make a peace treaty with Massasoit. The text also describes holding a harvest celebration
during which the Pilgrims fire muskets and over 90 Indians joined the feasting, which
lasts three days. The text closes with a declaration that the Pilgrims are at peace and trade
with most of their Indian neighbors.
Sewall, M., (1990).People of the breaking day. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Upper elementary. The text seems to be written by the Wampanoag from this perspective
at the time prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims, but the author does not seem to have
consulted with Wampanoag people in the book’s preparation. No mention is made of
interactions with Pilgrims. The narrator clarifies that the Wampanoag are a nation of
several thousand people who live in many villages; the people fish, hunt, and plant
together; their beliefs in the Great Spirit; the importance of their leader Massasoit; and the
other Native nations with whom they are at peace and war. The text explains their
preparations for war and their peaceful trade and game activities with other Native
nations. The roles of men, women, and children and how they help the Wampanoag
people meet their basic needs during each season are an important focus of the book. The
text seems to emphasize the communal nature of the Wampanoag culture with everyone
contributing to nation’s well-being.
Sewall, M., (1995).Thunder from the clear sky. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Children's
Upper elementary. The text portrays the perspectives of both the Wampanoag and the
Pilgrims on the relationship and interactions between the two groups in 1675. The
Wampanoag begin with an explanation of their first interactions with the “white ones”
with whom they traded, died from diseases white men brought, and were captured as
slaves. When the Pilgrims arrived, the Wampanoag leader Massasoit advised his people
to be friends with them; however, the Pilgrims tried to convert the Wampanoags to their
religion and traded goods for some of the Wampanoag land. The Pilgrims describe their
motivations for coming to America, their initial peaceful relations with the Wampanoag,
their efforts to “civilize”and convert the Wampanoag to Christianity and take land that
they believed the Wampanoag did not own, and the increased conflicts with the
Wampanoag when Massasoit’s son Wamsutta became leader. When he dies, the second
son Metacomet or King Philip becomes the great sachem of the Wampanoag. The text
includes an explanation of King Philip’s War between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag over
land told from both perspectives. The war ends with the capturing of King Philip’s wife
and small son, and the killing of King Philip. The text ultimately concludes with the end
of life as the Wampanoag knew it in New England.
Swamp, Chief Jake.(1995).Giving thanks: A Native American good morning message. New
York: Lee & Low Books.
Lower elementary. The text is based on the Thanksgiving Address, an ancient message of
peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants. This thanksgiving
message comes from the Iroquois tradition and the six nations which compose the
Iroquois Confederacy, including the Oneida. The text and beautiful illustrations portray
the Iroquois tradition of thankfulness for all living things.
Waters, K., (1989). Sarah Morton's day. New York, NY: Scholastic Incorporated.
Elementary. The book’s photographs can be used to explain orally main events in a young
Pilgrim girl’s life for young students, those who struggle with reading, or English
language learners. Sarah Morton lives on the Plymouth Plantation during the year 1627.
The information book is about this nine-year old and her daily routine at the plantation.
Beautiful photographs detail the reality of her life from all the pieces of clothing she
wears, her morning chores of tending the fire, helping prepare breakfast, feeding
chickens, milking goats, mucking the garden, pounding spices, and preparing the midday
meal. After this meal, Sarah must polish brass and participate in her lessons, although the
text mentions that not all Pilgrim girls are able to have such informal schooling. There
seems to be little time for recreation (playing marbles) with additional chores of tending
the fire, milking, being quizzed on her learning, and carrying the next day’s water before
going to bed. Sarah seems excited about a new ship coming into the harbor which may
bring letters and goods. The end of the text contains additional background information
on Plimoth Plantation, the real Sarah Morton who was a young girl in the 1620s
(documented in historical documents), and Amelia Poole, the person who portrays Sarah
Morton at the time the photographs were taken.
Waters, K., (1996). Tapenum's day: A Wampanoag Indian boy in Pilgrim times. New York,
Elementary. The third book in the trilogy that includes Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the
Life of a Pilgrim Girl and Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy, this
book explores the life of Tapenum and his struggle and preparation toward becoming a
warrior counselor, who must be strong in body and spirit. Tapenum focuses on hunting
animals and fishing for food for his family and running in order to be chosen as a warrior
counselor. Photographs show Tapenum’s clothing, hunting tools, and food pouch. The
time period is the 1620's and is based on the recreated Hobbamock’s Homesite, a
Wampanoag Indian program, located at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The end of the text provides additional information on the Wampanoag, becoming a
warrior counselor, and a glossary of Wampanoag words and meanings.
Yero, J. L. (2006). The Mayflower Compact. Washington DC: National Geographic.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The text primarily offers a Separatist perspective
on their reasons for coming to the new world, how they were able to secure funding for
the trip, the “Strangers” who did not share the Separatists’ religion but traveled with them
on the ship, their voyage, and why they wrote the Mayflower Compact. The exact text of
the Mayflower Compact is included with a translation of the old English terms into
contemporary English. The author clarifies that the Mayflower Compact was signed only
by men whose signature represented their entire family, including women, younger men,
children, and servants. The Mayflower Compact essentially was an agreement that the
Separatists and the Strangers would work together, elect a leader, and follow the leader.
The author acknowledges the assistance provided by Wampanoag men in helping the
Separatists and Strangers survive and corrects some misconceptions of the “first
Chorlian, M. (2009, October). Pilgrims rock the new world. Cobblestone, 29.
Upper elementary/middle school levels. The opening articles explain why the Separatists
left England, settled in the Netherlands, and eventually traveled to the New World, not for
religious freedom, but for a better life. Additional articles describe the difficult voyage to
the New World aboard the crowded Mayflower; the food, cooking tools, tools, clothing,
and weapons they packed; the social compact the Separatists and Strangers agreed upon
(but excluded all women and some servants); where the Separatists settled (on Patuxet
land left after the community was wiped out by diseases); the agreement between
Wampanoag and the Pilgrims to protect each other; and background on the daily lives and
culture of the Wampanoags. One article questions whether the first harvest celebration is
the predecessor to our current Thanksgiving while another explains that some Native
people observe Thanksgiving as a day of mourning and a third clarifies some of the
conflicts between Native people and the English.
Chorlian, M. (2001, September). Samoset and Squanto. Cobblestone 22.
Upper elementary/middle school level. The articles contain a stronger Native American
perspective than past issues. They acknowledge that Pilgrims settled on Wampanoag
land, differences between Pilgrim and Wampanoag cultures (implying many aspects of
Wampanoag culture were superior to the Europeans), Squanto’s significant contributions
to the Pilgrims’ early survival, and the eventual removal of the Wampanoags and other
Native people from their homelands due to conflicts over land.
Teacher Resources: Curriculum Resources, Journal Articles, Lesson Plans,
Edinger, M. (2005). The Pilgrim maid and the Indian chief. Educational Leadership, 63, 78-81.
The author reviews the challenges for teaching elementary students to discern fact from
fiction when teaching about Pilgrims and Native people. She uses primary sources, such
as Mourt’s Relation which describes the Pilgrims’ first year. The author also recommends
well-researched nonfiction children’s books about Pilgrims and Wampanoags by Marcia
Sewall, Penner’s Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners, and Connie
and Peter Roop’s Pilgrim Voices: Our First Year in the New World. However, when she
used historical fiction, her students tended to believe the story was factual. In addition,
the author took her class to Plimoth Plantation, a carefully researched enactment of how
Pilgrim life in 1627. However, students were confused by the Hobbamock’s Homesite,
which included Native people and other staff speaking about the Wampanoag, their
lifestyle, and their relationship with the Pilgrims during the 1600s. Students thought the
Wampanoag lifestyle remained the same since the 17th century. The author encourages
teachers to use primary sources or well-researched secondary sources and help elementary
students distinguish facts from fiction.
Gorelick, J. & Simermeyer, G. (2006). Harvest ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving myth. Social
Education, 70, 411-413.
The article is a lesson plan designed for use with high school students. It contains a
lengthy essay about the Wampanoags, the immigrants (rather than pilgrims), the contact
between the two groups, and the immigrants’ harvest celebration held to celebrate a
successful harvest. The authors offer several classroom discussion topics including: (1)
compare the traditional Thanksgiving story to the events described in the essay and (2)
were the Wampanoags invited to the harvest celebration? The article provides additional
insight into the Wampanoags in the past and present and their relationship with the
Montana Office of Public Instruction. (n.d.). Model Lesson Plan: 1621 a new look at
Thanksgiving. Retrieved from http://opi.mt.gov/pdf/IndianEd/HotTopics/ModelLesson_1621.pdf
The four-day lesson plan is built around the text 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving and
includes essential understandings, Montana content standards, online resources, suggested
assessments, teacher background material, vocabulary, extension activities, and a
bibliography of print and video resources. The lesson begins with a simulation activity
which places students in the position of the Wampanoag who live happily in their
homeland when Europeans arrive and take over their home. Students are then asked to
brainstorm how they celebrate Thanksgiving with their families and investigate how the
first Thanksgiving is portrayed in their social studies textbook. The second day involves
reading and discussing the text 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, especially different
perspectives on land. Next the students identify common myths associated with
Thanksgiving, correct the myths with facts, and report on the myths and factual errors
about the first Thanksgiving as portrayed in their social studies textbook. The conclusion
of the lesson involves students completing a quiz on myths and facts regarding the first
Thanksgiving and a class discussion on the importance of examining historical events
from multiple perspectives. A sample myths vs. reality quiz is included for a summative
Oyate. (2009). Thanksgiving. Retrieved from
The Oyate web site contains several valuable and informative resources dealing with
Thanksgiving. Oyate is a Native organization working to see that the lives and histories of
Native people are portrayed honestly, and so that all people will know the origins of
Native stories. One part of the Thanksgiving section of the web site is an essay
“Deconstructing the Myths of ‘The First Thanksgiving’” by Judy Dow and Beverly Slapin
which refutes many common beliefs about the Plimoth settlers, why the Wampanoags
attended the harvest celebration, and who likely provided the food for the celebration.
Another resource is a list of recommended books to use, a lengthy list of books to avoid
in teaching about Thanksgiving, and recommendations of primary sources which provide
a colonist’s perspective on Thanksgiving. See http://oyate.org/index.php/resources.
Philbrick, N. (2008). The Mayflower and the Pilgrims’ new world. New York: Puffin Books.
The author describes who the pilgrims were, their journey to the new world, their first
encounters with and how they were helped by Native people, and their eventual conflict
with different Native nations during “King Philip’s War.” The text offers detailed
descriptions of the gruesome killing and dismemberment of people and destruction of
homes and towns during this 14-month war. The pilgrims were originally called
“Separatists” because they were considered the more radical group of Puritans who
believed the Church of England had become corrupt. They moved to Holland because
they thought it was a more religiously tolerant country. However, their lives were difficult
in Holland and they worried that their children were becoming more like the Dutch
population. The “Separatists” decided to move to the new world to establish an English
village life. When the English arrived in the new world, they helped themselves to corn
and items from Native people’s homes and graves as they searched for a place to settle.
They eventually chose an area with a hill, a brook, a salt marsh, and cleared land with no
residents because the Wampanoags died from diseases several years earlier. They called
their place of settlement Plymouth Plantation. The Pilgrims met and had generally good
interactions with such Native people as Samoset, Massasoit, and Squanto, who were
crucial to the Pilgrims’ survival even if Massasoit was suspicious of Squanto’s motives.
The Pilgrims and Massasoit signed an agreement or treaty to not hurt each other and to
help each other. The author provides a brief description of the “first Thanksgiving” in
1620 as a traditional English harvest festival with Massasoit and 100 Pokanokets
contributing five deer. For the next 55 years, the Pilgrims and Massasoit’s people seemed
to have a good relationship, but by 1675, the Pilgrims and Massasoit’s people, led by his
son Philip, are at war. The war seemed to be the result of the Pilgrims’ belief they no
longer needed help from the Pokanokets, the lack of land on which to spread their
settlement, and Philip’s willingness to sell land to the Pilgrims in order to purchase
weapons. Although the war lasted only 14 months, Plymouth colony lost almost 8 percent
of its men, while the Native people of southern News England lost 60-80 percent of its
population. England provided the Pilgrims with food, muskets, and ammunition while
Native people ran out of food and gunpowder necessary for war. Overall, the text
provides a very detailed, complex portrait of the Pilgrims, the Native people they
encountered, and their relationship.
Plimoth Plantation. (2003-2011). Thanksgiving interactive: You are the historian. Retrieved from
A component of the Plimoth Plantation website is an activity which allows students to
explore the question of what really happened during the fall of 1621 when the English
colonists and Wampanoags celebrated the harvest through a feast lasting three days. The
site allows students to learn more about life among the English colonists and
Wampanoags during 1621 and different perspectives on the “first Thanksgiving.” Lesson
plans for the separation of fact from myth, guided inquiry, use of primary sources, use of
cultural clues to make educated guesses, and the consideration of multiple points of view
are provided to guide teachers’ and students’ use of the web site at
http://www.plimoth.org/media/olc/hpteachg.html#intro. In addition, graphic organizers
are provided to support student learning.
Seale, D., Slapin, B. & Silverman, C. (1998). Thanksgiving: A Native perspective. Berkeley, CA:
This text is the best resource for understanding more about Native people’s views of
Thanksgiving and is published by a respected, authentic Native organization. It includes
articles addressing the importance and longstanding tradition of giving thanks among
Native people, background on the Wampanoag, and conflicts between the Pilgrims and
other colonists and the Wampanoags and other Native nations. It offers different
strategies for teaching about Thanksgiving in order to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and
misunderstandings about the traditional “first Thanksgiving.”
Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Thanksgiving
mourning. Retrieved at http://www.tolerance.org/activity/thanksgiving-mourning
This teaching activity invites upper elementary and middle school students to explore the
perspectives of two Native American authors about the meaning of the Thanksgiving
holiday. Teaching Tolerance was founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center
and is dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting
equitable school experiences for our nation's children. It focuses on different Native
American perspectives on Thanksgiving and omits a Pilgrim perspective. The activity
meets language arts, social skills, and U.S. history standards and includes objectives and
essential questions. The activity asks students to work with a partner to review their prior
knowledge regarding the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday and read and discuss two
different readings by Native Americans regarding Thanksgiving. Links to each reading
are provided, and teachers should provide additional assistance to struggling readers in
order to learn from them. The first reading “The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta James,”
a Wampanoag, was a speech planned for presentation in 1970 and is a reminder that the
traditional Thanksgiving led to the genocide of Native people, the theft of their lands, and
an assault on their culture. His speech led to the creation of a National Day of Mourning
observed on Thanksgiving by some Native people. The second reading “Thanksgiving: A
Native American View” by Jacqueline Keeler, a Dineh and Yankton Dakota Sioux,
focuses on celebrating Thanksgiving, not for the traditional reasons but because Native
people survived the Pilgrims’ and other Europeans’ bigotry, hatred, greed, and self-righteousness and are still able to share and give to others. The activity suggests that
following partner work, the teacher should lead a class discussion on important ideas in
each reading, and students are asked to write about how the readings affected their
understanding of Thanksgiving.
Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. (n.d.). Wampanoag celebrations. Retrieved from
The lesson is designed for grades 3-6, includes one main objective, and provides
activities for four days. The lesson is an authentic representation of the theme of
thanksgiving and Wampanoag history and culture since it is prepared by one of the
Wampanoag tribes. The lesson begins with students and teacher reviewing background
information on the Pilgrim and Wampanoag “first Thanksgiving,” then the teacher
clarifies that the Wampanoag have given thanks much earlier. Students review what they
are thankful for and investigate how the Wampanoag view the traditional Thanksgiving
celebration. Online resources are provided for this investigation. Next, students learn
more about Cranberry Day, which is a celebration of the cranberry harvest, one of the
many thanksgiving celebrations the Wampanoag have throughout the year. Students are
able to discover and discuss the importance of Cranberry Day and cranberries to the
Wampanoag and how it is celebrated today. Finally, students prepare a cranberry recipe as
part of their own cranberry harvest celebration.
Annotated bibliography list