Thanksgiving and Forgotten Genocide: Brainwashing of American Textbooks

Those who are indigenous to the land we now call the “United States of America” have been long misrepresented, demonized, and effectively marginalized in American history textbooks in favor of glorifying European colonialism. Why does “democracy” refuse to teach that 10 to 30 million Natives were unjustifiably slaughtered in the name of conquest and imperialism? Where is the “free market of ideas” when selective and biased history is being taught in our educational institutions?

Erasing the memory of an entire race of people is cultural genocide. Not only is biased history presented to us through a distorted lens, but we are also subjected to the realities of capitalism, in which commercialization of an ambiguous holiday pulls us away from facts and meaning. Turkeys are associated with “Thanksgiving” in the same way Santa Clause and the Easter bunny have become synonymous with Christmas and Easter, respectively. Through the guise of innocence and “good holiday spirit”, capitalism is constantly telling us to consume because consumption equals “happiness.” It is no coincidence that we all rush to our favorite malls and shopping centers on “Black Friday” for “big savings.”

And as children dress up as Pilgrims and Natives to reenact the romanticized version of history, they are not only perpetuating stereotypes, but more importantly, they’re embodying racist and ethnocentric lies. What do they really know about the Pilgrims and the Natives? Consider a high school history textbook called “The American Tradition” which describes the scene quite succinctly:

After some exploring, the Pilgrims chose the land around Plymouth Harbor for their settlement. Unfortunately, they had arrived in December and were not prepared for the New England winter. However, they were aided by friendly Indians, who gave them food and showed them how to grow corn. When warm weather came, the colonists planted, fished, hunted, and prepared themselves for the next winter. After harvesting their first crop, they and their Indian friends celebrated the first Thanksgiving.

This patronizing version of history excludes many brutal facts about European history. As stated by James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” many college students are unaware of the horrific plague that devastated and significantly reduced the population of Natives after Columbus’ arrival in the “new world.” Most diseases, for instance, came from animals that were domesticated by Europeans. Cowpox from cows led to smallpox, which was later “spread through gifts of blankets by infected Europeans.” Of the twelve high school textbooks Professor Loewen studied and analyzed, only three offer some explanation that the plague was a factor of European colonization. The nine remaining textbooks mention almost nothing, and two of them omit the subject altogether. He writes: “Each of the other seven furnishes only a fragment of a paragraph that does not even make it into the index, let alone into students’ minds.”

Why is it important to mention the plague? Quite simply, it reinforced European ethnocentrism and hardly produced a “friendly” relationship between the Natives and Europeans. To most of the Pilgrims and Europeans, the Natives were heathens, savages, and demonic. Upon seeing thousands of dead Natives, the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, called the plague “miraculous.” In 1634, he wrote to a friend in England:

But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect…

The ugly truth is that many Pilgrims were thankful and grateful that the Native population was decreasing. Even worse, there was the Pequot Massacre in 1637, which started after the colonists found a murdered white man in his boat. Ninety armed settlers burned a Native village, along with their crops, and then demanded the Natives to turn in the murderers. When the Natives refused, a massacre followed.

Captain John Mason and his colonial army surrounded a fortified Pequot village and reportedly shouted: “We must burn them! Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord Judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies.” The surviving Pequot were hunted and slain.

The Governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, further elaborates:

Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire…horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

Perhaps most disturbing: it is strongly argued by many historians that the Pequot Massacre led to the “Thanksgiving” festivities. The day after the massacre, the aforementioned Governor Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children.” It was signed into law that, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.”

Now, one may ask: What about Squanto, the Wampanoag man who learned to speak English and helped the hungry, ill, and poor Pilgrims? As cited by Professor Loewen, an American high school textbook called “Land of Promise” reads:

Squanto had learned their language, the author explained, from English fishermen who ventured into the New England waters each summer. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, squash, and pumpkins. Would the small band of settlers have survived without Squanto’s help? We cannot say. But by the fall of 1621, colonists and Indians could sit down to several days of feast and thanksgiving to God (later celebrated as the first Thanksgiving).

Note that this text states the first Thanksgiving was on 1621. Indeed, there was a feast on that year, but it was not called a “Thanksgiving feast” nor was it repeated until years later after the Pequot Massacre in 1637. In regards to Squanto, the correct question to ask is: How did Squanto learn English? History textbooks neglect to mention that the Europeans did not perceive Squanto as an equal, but rather as “an instrument of their God” to help the “chosen people.” It is also omitted that, as a boy, Squanto was stolen by a British captain in 1605 and taken to England. He worked for a Plymouth Merchant who eventually helped him arrange passage back to Massachusetts, but less than a year later, he was seized by a British slave raider. Along with two dozen fellow Natives, Squanto was sold into slavery in Spain. He would manage to escape slavery, journey back to England, and then talk a ship captain into taking him along on his next trip to Cape Cod in 1619.

As Squanto walked back into his home village, he was horrified to find that he was the only surviving member of his village. The rest were either killed in battle or died of illness and disease. Excluding Squanto’s enslavement is to paint an incredibly distorted version of history that suggests Natives, like Squanto, learned English for no other reason but to help the colonists. It is to glorify the Europeans and erase the struggles and experiences of the Native people.

When history is transformed into myths, tales, and bedtime stories, we ignore historical research that enables us to learn valuable and meaningful lessons about our present, as well as about our future. History is meant to be an accurate and honest account of civilizations, cultures, and events; not a one-sided narrative of ethnocentric and selective alterations.

As Professor Loewen states:

Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Our modern celebrations date back only to 1863; not until the 1890s did the Pilgrims get included in the tradition; no one even called them ‘Pilgrims’ until the 1870s.

I did not write this post to pass judgment on everyone who is celebrating “Thanksgiving.” None of us are responsible for the atrocities committed hundreds of years ago. None of us caused the plague or the massacres. But as human beings, I do feel that it’s important to educate ourselves about history, to acknowledge that the United States was founded on dispossession of Native people, to be aware of our complicities (when we, including people of color, seek to become social equals with those who use their power to oppress others).

The fact that history textbooks and schools try to glorify the Pilgrims while omitting significant facts about Native peoples represent the ongoing cultural genocide in the United States. Let us not become clouded by super-patriotism or the blowout sales of “Black Friday.” Let us be conscious of our brothers and sisters in humanity, learn about their contributions, and embolden ourselves to stand up against racism and genocide in all forms.


UPDATE: This post was written a few years ago, so I apologize for not addressing the intersection between sexual violence and genocide (as I do in later posts).  Please follow the links below to read MUST-READ articles about the myths and lies of “Thanksgiving.”

1. A Day to Give Thanks?

2. The Original Occupation: Native Blood & the Myth of Thanksgiving

3.Cooking the History Books: The Thanksgiving Massacre

52 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and Forgotten Genocide: Brainwashing of American Textbooks

  1. History was and is written by the victorious. In this case the victorious are a bunch of bigoted, self-righteous individuals who passed themselves off as God fearing and moral. It is this exact attitude upon which the nation of the United States was built and everything that it has ever done since has been tinted in this exact shade. Is it any wonder then why the present is the way it is?

  2. Thanksgiving, to my mind is nothing more than a harvest festival, which is universal. Sir James Fraser’sThe Golden Bough makes this clear, as well as addressing the universality of certain other festivals, much as we have embellished them and altered them to suit each culture.

    The story of the founding of the United States, is greatly focused on the original pilgrims, pioneers, settlers, founders, that they were Divinely aided by the Christian God. The most conservative were having problems in Europe because of it and so saught “freedom of religion” in the New World.

    “In God We Trust” on the money and ending all political speeches with “God Bless America” are just 2 manifestations of how much Divine Providence has been used to determine the Americans sense of themselves.

    Your post does illustrate the importance of perspective in historical narrations and of the writing and rewriting of history for political, or ideological ends.


    1. OMG!!! I didn’t know that but I’m not surprised about it… What gives “the white man” the right to think they are superior to Blacks, Indians and other races?


  5. I am both moved, sickened, and horrified. Thank you for the post! I look at my 3-year-old daughter and wonder, now, what other lies will she be told? Is there a school that will teach her the truth?

  6. I appreciate your efforts to clear up some purposeful omissions from history. I really believe we live in a country of lies and deceit. That is why there are so many laws, rules, regulations and limits because people are unable to self govern. A large portion of the white American culture are narrow minded, inconsiderate, selfish and down right mean thinking all the time they are superior to other races. They spend most of their time trying to make more money, buy more stuff, watch trash and sport TV never thinking about other cultures or races or for that matter the ecosystem they live in. Americans as a whole are so self centered it is dangerous.

    The sad part is their are people living among us that would slaughter the Native Americans all over again. This has been going on since the earliest cultures and I guess it will never stop.

    I am part Muskogee and my heart lies with the native people!

    Thank you (Ma – do) for the article.

  7. so if you say we should approach history with honesty then why don’t you do a piece on the Greeks and how looked up to and loved the Ethiopians and most of the heroes in their history ( the black figures on Greek pottery) were actually black Ethiopians and that the Greeks had interracial relationships with the Ethiopians…

  8. Thank you for an informative History lesson. I always wondered as a child why the Indians that sat with the Pilgrims were so friendly and the ones of the wild west were portrayed as heathens. They were all probably friendly until provoked and attacked. How things have Not changed. Will put this years Thanksgiving in a new perspective.

    1. Native Americans are not “all” anything. There are different Nations with different languages, customs, beliefs, etc. Some nations were friendly until provoked, some were the ones who provoked the attacks. The European settlers had that same “all” attitude, which lead to the wrong Nations being attacked by the whites, just because of that “all” attitude.

  9. There are so many examples of these sorts of lies around the world. Americans and Canadians with their Natives, Japanese singular focus in school textbooks and museums on the atomic bombs and utter ignoring of the massacres they perpetrated on other Asian countries… I’m proud to say that at least ten years ago in Australia when I did my schooling, we got a full account of the shocking treatment of Aboriginals by our English settlers. The massacres, baby head soccer games, European diseases, the alcohol addictions, the stolen generations… I learnt it all in school. Actually, there’s where I learnt about the American pilgrim/Natives thing as well, in brief. (And that Addams’ Family movie!)

    I’m not so proud of the living and education standards they still live in today. We even had a Sorry Day, and very little changed economically.

    I am entirely sure that before the “pilgrims” the Native Americans had their own blemishes history. Tribes warring with tribes, subjugation of women, other things now abhorrent. The most, most important thing about things like Thanksgiving? DON’T MAKE IT EASY. Make it really, really hard for people in modern times to feel comfortable being racist, sexist, homophobic and forgetful of human rights. 🙂

  10. I am working on a Documentary Film project called “Wituwamat’s Head – America’s Truth”. Wituwamat was one of the last great Warriors of the Moswetuset People who was murdered by the Pilgrim’s on April 6, 1623. His severed head was taken back to Plymouth and placed on a pike outside the Meetinghouse as a warning to all the other Tribes that they should not challenge the English God. The sad part of this history is that the Wampanoag Sachem, Massasoit, along with the Wampanoag Warrior, Hobbamock, was involved in this attack. So not only is the story of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag’s first Thanksgiving a lie; also kept out of the history books is their alliance against other Tribes.

    This is the story of America’s founding on which was based on Religious,, Political and Economic Corruption – not far from who we are today.

    1. Can’t wait to the video if it going to be filmed. Please inform us of the date and where it will if broadcasted:)

      Peace be with only them warm hearted, kind, generous and open minded people of the earth!

  11. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment
    didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.

    Anyway, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  12. And so it is…………..Amen………..It’s like Chrispus Attucks Conspiraicy I am SO greatful to have had OLDER BROTHERS Who taught me the TRUTH Got me expelled and suspend from time to time, I was little and would SPEAK OUT! And say that’s NOT TRUE TEACHER… Everyone is not that fortunate to learn the true history of America especially from The BLACK PERSPECTIVE Being from The very land where so much of this actually went down, It was common knowledge whats called Black Folk KITCHEN TABLE TALK They didnt tell me that part, not to speak elsewhere! lol My mom wasnt pleased to say the least. Now we HAVE access to a plethorah of information there are no excuses.

  13. My heart, mind and body will beats one with the First Nation most all days of my life but especially so this time of year.

    A wonderful Native American desert to make this time of year is your favorite First nation winter squash or pumpkin, Meat from many Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata, nuts quantity (30-50), and 3-4 Native American Persimmons fleshed only. Mix all as you would make a traditional pumpkin pie. These are all native foods. It has a great taste and is way to exposed the narrow minded friends and family on this false gathering day.

      1. Not meant to galling, but rather a way for people to prepare a desert to open the minds of narrow minded friends and relatives. Especially when the opportunity rises as they ask what did you put in the pumpkin pie? It provides an open door to discuss the native food and also to mention the abuse the Native Americans have been dealt and how the white people have hijacked this holiday for their version.

  14. This article is well written even though it is not news to me. I have read several historical accounts of the initial relationships between the indigenous people and the European white men who claimed America for the their God and themselves. The stories that have been made up to clean up the ugliness of disease, war, slavery, and religous intolerance.Having said that, we need holdiays as a matter of ritual. Our current holidays are only a shadow of their true begiinings and honestly that is probably a good thing. I can appreciate getting together with family and being thankful for the things we have, and still having appreciation for the fact that the myth of the origins of the holiday are simply not true.

  15. This is absolutely fantastic. I try to explain Thanksgiving to people, and they just don’t get it. I am going to share this with some individuals that need educating. This is so well-written and covers a lot of material. The things we learn in school are atrociously changed…I do wish people like you ran the school systems. That would be a far better world. Imagine being taught the truth instead of modified stories. What the world would be…
    Thank you SO much for this. I appreciate it and you to the highest degree. So much respect. 🙂

  16. Myths are handed down for the benefit of new generations, and being thankful for living in a land of plenty has merit.

    There is no purpose to debunking such myths, and this kind of silly axe grinding has more to do with contemporary politics than an interest in truth or history, to the detriment of Native Americans who are being ripped off by the federal government TODAY.

  17. Thank you really much for your articles! I am french and we’re also taught that Thanksgiving was a celebration of Indians and Pilgrims’ friendship. So I am glad to discover the truth about it, and about the intercourses between Indians and pilgrims in 17th century.

    1. Let’s All Tell the True Story About Thanksgiving

      Yatibaey Evans
      Yatibaey Evans, a public school teacher in Alaska, is the president-elect of the National Indian Education Association.

      UPDATED NOVEMBER 25, 2015, 3:22 AM

      Let me tell you a story, a true story.

      The other night, while reading Howard Zinn’s, “A People’s History on the United States,” my 7-year-old son came into my room and asked if I would read the book aloud to him. A description of Columbus’ invasion and the genocide of the Arawak people was told.

      My son interrupted me, “Mom, is this true? Why don’t they teach me this in school? I learned that Columbus was a good man.”

      I responded by saying, “It’s difficult to tell of a history that is sad.”

      I began reading more, but my son stopped me and said, “You don’t have to read aloud anymore; this is so sad. Why would someone do this?”

      My eyes welled up as I began to explain a person’s ego and drive for power and privilege. He began to cry as he felt the pain of our ancestors, our people, our grandmas and grandpas. As we held each other closely, with tears falling, I went on to talk about forgiveness and love.

      Like the misconceptions of Columbus, the truth about Thanksgiving is often left out of children’s education. Turkeys line hallways; happy Pilgrims and Wampanoag are featured in projects and glamorized in stories. Over the years, the real Thanksgiving story that included thievery and death of a people was recreated to tell only a happy story. A happy story makes us feel good. Is telling a lie perpetuating happiness or rather covering a frightful truth in hopes of creating assimilated citizens? Stopping to give grace or be thankful is not bad, but maybe by telling a fuller story we can open opportunities for healing dialogues.

      As a teacher, I know that the majority of my fellow educators have positive intentions and are required to follow the curriculum. It takes effort, time and energy to go above and beyond the requirements of today’s academic objectives. For all who endeavor to change what is taught in our schools, you must be willing to give of yourself, to stay up late, to think a little harder and bring forth that extra effort.

      We have grown up in a time where we know the truth, we know what injustices are, and we know we can make a difference. I call on teachers, parents and grandparents to share a fuller truth, shine light on a fuller picture. By tending the soil for deeper roots we sow the seeds of stronger plants; and we can transform a generation of people.

  18. I don’t know what made me read this article on February 25th, 2014, but I’m glad I did! I’ve always known that the Natives got the short end of the stick as far as Thanksgiving was concerned but there are a lot of other facts that I was quite naive and unaware of. A MOVIE should be made of this truth. And, I don’t mean a glossy version, either. I mean, a real down-to-earth TRUTHFUL movie. BASED ON REAL EVENTS! Who do I need to contact in order to make this happen?! This is a movie I would see for SURE! And, none of this Daniel-Day Lewis portraying an Indian, either! (Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE DD-L! He was AMAZING in “Lincoln”), but there ARE real Natives and Native-Americans who are actors who can be in the movie! Someone needs to get on that and PRONTO!

    1. In the process of setting up a film production company “New Eagleland Productions” to tell this story and more! Contact:

  19. Left out of this conversation is the story of Neponset warrior chief, Wittawaumutt, slain in an act of treachery by Myles Standish & company, the real reason for the Thanksgiving of 1621 and immortalized by H D Longfellow in his epic poem, “The Courtship of Myles Standish”.

  20. I am an absolute fan of Science and History. Science from objective truths and History of unrepeatable (however often duplicated) offenses-lessons learned. Be absolute and learn without repetitious failure. American solders were massacring Indian tribes while Lincoln was emancipating the slaves….the culmination of fear. What I want to know is where your information derives from. Is there a great collective of this information please. I cry for those who fought!

  21. There are so many different versions of Thanksgiving now being told that it is impossible to sort fact from fiction. One version says that the Pilgrims left the Mayflower and immediately started murdering the natives. Another says there were many ships, not just one. Another says the Pilgrims, for some unknown reason dug up the graves of the natives. Another says that Thanksgiving was a celebration of the Pilgrims for all of the terror they imposed on the natives. Other versions tell us that the Pilgrims came for religious freedom while still others say the pilgrims were a bunch of troublemakers out to destroy everything and everyone they encountered. I would have to believe that the most accurate account of what truly happened would come from William Bradford’s diary. After all, he was actually there at the time. Maybe we should just take a day and enjoy our friends, family and the prosperity we enjoy by being Americans with it’s free market system. We can’t fix the passed, so let’s move on.

    1. You mean like “move on” and ignore the atrocities committed against Native Americans, including the brutal violence they are facing in Standing Rock right now? Your privilege and colonialism is showing.

    2. One that says just Move on is truly naive. You should not move and forget the past of how native Peoples around the world were treated. Serious Oppression and Abuse of Native people and their supporters has been happening all this summer 2016 and it is getting worst day by day. It comes from the arrogant, free market, lying, stealing, cheating and polluting company Energy Access Partners TX through what they are doing to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in ND. Educate yourself before you speak.

  22. “Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers.

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