In our news of late we have heard rhetoric of negative comments of modern day Americans who should be ashamed of themselves for looting and pillaging the American Indian. The complaints point all the way back to the Pilgrims who are called, in some case, invaders. Please do not misunderstand this article. I am in no way ignoring or justifying many of the atrocities than were committed against the American Indian during the historical era or colonization. Nor do I justify or take any pleasure in how our government made treaties with the American Indians only to break them in favor of discovered valuable resources. There is no doubt that our government was at times cruel and inhuman with our indigenes brother and sister Americans. We cannot however, go back and change history. We should however, learn from it so as not to repeat any evils our country is guilty of.

With this idea in mind, I would like to go back and suggest we learn and emulate the original Thanksgiving Unity demonstrated between the American Indian and the Pilgrims.

In 1621 the Pilgrims showed up in the New World extremely unprepared for what was to come. In fact, due to a brutal winter, disease and a rough crossing of the Atlantic, only half of the Mayflower’s102 passengers survived the first winter in the United States.

Squanto, a member of a local indigenous Wampanoag confederation, had previously been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Because he spoke English, he was a key ally for the Pilgrims. If it hadn’t been for Native Americans like Squanto imparting lessons for survival in their new land, the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims wouldn’t have survived and flourished in the way they did. Here is a short list of how they cooperated with each other in peace.

1. Shared Resources. One of the things that Squanto did for the Pilgrims was arrange meetings and broker alliances with surrounding Native American tribes. This allowed the Pilgrims to engage in a trading system with the local tribes, exchanging European-manufactured goods such as guns, metal cooking utensils, and cloth for food and other necessary supplies.

This barter and trade system was beneficial for both sides. The Wampanoags were looking to build up their strength against rival tribes such as the Pequot and Narragansett—and needed the weapons and resources to do so.

2.Planting Life Sustaining Crops. Many Pilgrims perished during their first winter due to poor nutrition and lack of knowledge of how to grow their own food. The local Native American tribes that had lived in the area for over 10,000 years, such as the Wampanoag and Pokanokets, understood the native crops and knew how to cultivate and harvest them. Once a connection was established with these tribes, the Pilgrims were able to gain important survival lessons when it came to growing crops in the local area. Life-sustaining crops such as corn were commonplace and kept people healthy and strong during the winter months. It’s no wonder cornbread has become a staple Thanksgiving feast food!

Pilgrim house-gardens likely included crops such as onions, leeks, sorrel, yarrow, lettuce, carrots, radishes, currants, liverwort, watercress and others. Additionally, the Pilgrims learned how to extract sap from maple trees and gather ground nuts, acorns, walnuts, chestnuts, squashes, beans, fruits and berries.

The Native Americans also taught them what not to eat—such as which plants were poisonous and couldn’t be ingested.

3. Hunting & Fishing. Aside from growing produce, the Pilgrims also learned where and how to fish and hunt from the local Native American tribes. Understanding trapping techniques and animal movement patterns is key in knowing how to hunt successfully—and the Native Americans had been doing this for centuries.

According to an account recorded by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, people hunted deer, fowl and wild turkeys—which they stored and served at the first Thanksgiving feast.

They also learned to catch fish such as cod and bass and other seafood such as clams, mussels, lobster and eel. These foods provided important nutrients and nourishment needed to get the Pilgrims through the harsh winter conditions.

Thanks to the lessons in survival from the Native Americans, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock went on to defeat the odds and establish the second successful English colony in the Americas. (Info provided by Grant Miller of ‘My Patriot Supply’)

The alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, and the Pilgrims endured for more than 50 years. Is it any wonder, that a three day Harvest Festival (America’s First Thanksgiving) was held in 1621 to celebrate this Alliance and thank Almighty God for this friendship and unity?

Psalm 9:1 “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders.”

Pastor Kevin Norton

Hibbing Alliance Church


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