YES Prep Public Schools
thanksgiving: a native perspective
You may have heard the friendly Thanksgiving tale of the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Tribe. While this celebration truly happened, many Native people don’t see Thanksgiving as a cause for celebration.

Origins of Thanksgiving

Historians believe the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe took place between Fall and Winter of 1621 to celebrate the end of a successful harvest. “While the 1621 event may not have been called Thanksgiving, the sentiment was certainly present in that historic celebration.” Thanksgiving was actually declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a socio-political move to help unite growing tensions between the North and South during the Civil War era.

To the Wampanoag and many other Native groups, Thanksgiving is a reminder of the dark history of genocide, theft of Native lands, and forced assimilation that Indigenous people endured for centuries following the first settlers in America.

Day of Mourning

Contrary to the friendly celebration between the Pilgrims and the Indians, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning and protest for many Native people. One of the counter-celebration that takes place includes a traditional National Day of Mourning march at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This event was established in the 1970s by the United American Indians of New England, and represents “A day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”

How has Thanksgiving Evolved?

Giving thanks has always been a part of Native culture. It is engrained in their spiritual beliefs and daily life to emphasize gratitude for creation, care for the environment, and recognition of the human need for communion with nature and others.  Although the Thanksgiving holiday has continued to evolve, it is important to understand how this holiday has different meanings for different populations.

This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself to discussing the Native perspective of Thanksgiving with your family. We’ve included some resources below to help guide you in these important conversations.



The Department of Organizational Strategy, Initiatives, and Culture (OSIC) was established in 2017 to oversee YES Prep functions which speaks to organizational development and cultural foundation of YES.