Thanksgiving and the American Indian

It’s November, a time when we tend to cuddle up and look ahead to the holidays.  It’s a time of Thanksgiving.

I’m sure all of you know that our Thanksgiving comes from the Eastern Indians, and in particular Squanto — and if you didn’t know about Squanto, I would highly recommend the movie, Squanto, starring a young and dreamy Adam Beach.  Sigh…

But what was this festival called Thanksgiving?  Did it happen just this one time?  Was it due to the Indians’ wishing to acknowledge the newcomers, as I was often taught in school?  Was there more to it?  Well, I do believe that there was … is.  So do read on.

Thanksgiving was one of several festivals amongst the Eastern Indians — in particular I’m talking about the Iroquois.  However, these ceremonies were common to all the Eastern tribes.  There were many festivals throughout the year, and they tended to follow the seasons.

The Iroquois celebrated six festivals, wherein they gave thanks to the Creator for all they had.  These festivals would open with speeches by leaders, teacher, etc.  And of course there was much dancing, which was done not only for the fun of simply dancing, but it was also a sense of worship.  It was thought that the Creator needed some sort of amusement, thus He gave the people dancing.

In spring — early March — it was time to collect together tree bark and sap – this was needed to repair houses and other things, such as canoes, bowls, etc.   Spring was also the time for planting.  This was the maple festival.  Next was the Planting festival.  Here prayers were sent to the Creator to bless their seed.

The Iroquois’ main food source was corn, beans and squash (the three sisters).  Family gardens were separated by borders that were broad and grassy — they would even camp on these borders and sometimes they were raise watch towers.

The next festival of the Iroquois was the Strawberry Festival.  This is where the people gave thanks to the Creator for their many fruits (like strawberries).  It was summertime.  The women gathered wild nuts and other foods, while the men hunted, fished and provided various meats for cooking.  Again, each festival was greeted with much dancing and merriment.  Did you know that the some Iroquois believed the way to the Creator was paved with strawberries?

The next fesitval was the Green Corn Fesitval.  Again, the Creator was thanked for the bounty of food that had been raised all through the summer.  Dancers danced to please the Creator and musicians sang and beat the drum.  Again there were many speeches to honor the people and the Creator.  There were team sports.  Lacrosse was the game that was most admired and it was played with great abandon by the men.  Women played games, too and often their games were as competitive as the men’s.

The next season festival was…are you ready?  Thanksgiving — or the Harvest Thanksgiving.  By this time the women had harvested the corn, beans and squash.  Much of it would be dried.  Much went to feed families.  Husks were made into many different items.  Dolls, rugs, mats.  Did you know that the dolls didn’t have faces?  Now was the time to gather more nuts and berries.  Men were busy, too, hunting far away.  Bear, moose, beaver were all sought after and hunted.  Again, there was much celebration.  Dancing, speeches, prayer.  And of course — food.  It was this particular festival that was shared with the newcomers to this continent.

Can you guess what the next festival was?  Although this is a Christmas tree, it was not a celebration of Christmas — but if you guessed this, you were very close.  The next and last festival of the year was New Year’s.  At this time, a white dog was sacrificed as a gift to the Creator.  This was also a time for renewing the mind and body.  (Does that not remind you of our New Year’s resolutions?)  At this time, the False Face Society members would wear masks to help others to cleanse themselves of their bad minds and restore only their good minds.  There was again much celebration, much dancing, much merriment and enjoyment as each person would settle in for the long winter ahead of them.

The First Americans indeed did give this country very much, not only its festivals which we still remember to this day, but also it gave to this nation a fighting spirit for freedom.  In these times when there seems to be uncertainty ahead of us, there is still much for us to be thankful for.  I know I am thankful for my family and my husband and daughters and my new granddaughter.  I’m thankful to be able to travel this beautiful country.  I’m thankful to be able to voice my opinions and for living in a country where I am still able to be who I am.

How about you?  What are you thankful for?  What has influenced your life for the better?  And what will you be doing for Thanksgiving this year?

I may be away from the computer and on the road tomorrow — I hope so — as I return home hopefully in time for Thanksgiving with family.

But before I leave you today, let me share a link with you — this link has two wonderful (and sexy) excerpts from LAKOTA PRINCESS and PROUD WOLF’S WOMAN:  Please take the time to go over and have a look.

NEWS ALERT!!!!   LAKOTA SURRENDER goes on sale in just a few short weeks — first time ever in e-books.  Pick up your copy today! If you preorder, it’s on sale!

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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33 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and the American Indian”

  1. Karen, what a lovely post! I remember when I was little, we needed to do a book report on Native Americans and I chose the Iroquois. I still have the report to this day. I was sharing my memories of my mom who had just passed away last year.

    My mom and I sat and traced pictures out of books and together we read about the tribe. We were both fascinated with Native tribes. My mother always believed that my great grandmother was part Lakota.

    I am thankful that I had a mother who was interested in all things history. She was my first teacher and through her, I shared the same passion. Though I do not have children of my own, I hope that I will be able to pass on the values my mom passed on to me through my grandnephew.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving, oh and BTW, I LOVED your excerpts on the Sweet n Sexy Divas blog.

  2. I enjoyed all of your post and learned a lot from it. Was surprised to learn that the road to the creator was thought to be paved with strawberries. I didn’t even know the Indians grew strawberries. I was saddened to learn of the sacrifice of a white dog.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Great post Karen, very interesting about the strawberries!

    I am so thankful for my family and friends. I will be spending this Thanksgiving with my husbands family. Will spend time with my family the week after Thanksgiving.

  4. I have lots to be thankful for,6 kids an 8 grandkids who are all healthy an a totally wonderful husband,,but its been a sad year,my little brother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer an is not in good shape right now,but im thankful to have gotten to show my love an devotion to him,,an I lost my mother in June at age 81,,was sudden an she was in pretty good health for her age,you always think you have a bit more time but you dont,she left this world knowing she was loved dearly,,so ive got some really mixed up emotions going on here,,thankful for what I have an for what I lost,an will lose,,,keep me in your prayers

  5. I am celebrating with my family! Father in law, 2- sister in laws and my daughter’s family. I’m making 2 -10lb turkeys with stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. Everyone else is bringing whatever they want to add to the celebration.

    We also have a new granddaughter. She was born on November 10th!!

    Happy Holidays! Enjoy the day!

    Thanks for the information. I did know that dancing was a large part of Native American life. Beautifully decorated outfits and lot’s of drums too.

  6. Karen,

    As always a beautiful post filled with fascinating history.

    My mom taught first grade for 32 years and every year the week of Thanksgiving she read the story of Squanto to the children and every year she cried while reading it.

    I’m always thankful for my family and friends. I’ve been truly blessed with the people who’ve been such a huge part of my life. I’m thankful for this country, even though we have our problems there’s no place I’d rather live. And I’m thankful for those who put our lives above their own and defend and protect us all.

    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  7. I always look forward to your posts, Karen (and to Adam). It’s interesting to know how some of their traditions paralleled our own.
    This will be a special Thanksgiving for me because, for the first time in years, I’ll have all of my small family together around one table (my son, his wife, my three grandchildren, my daughter, and her boyfriend). So I have a lot to be thankful for.
    Have a lovely holiday, everyone

  8. Hi Lizzie!

    What a wonderful story. And what a beautiful being your mother was to do that with you. I love memories like this.

    I’m afraid I won’t be home for Thanksgiving this year and that I must admit, makes me sad. But I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful!

    And thanks for the compliments on the excerpts. I must admit it was fun to reacquaint myself with those people. 🙂

  9. Hi Gladys!

    Me, too. That was a sad part of the story, I fear. I remember when I first began my research that there were all kinds of wild fruits, strawberries and berries of all kinds, plum trees, etc. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Hi Quilt Lady!

    I so envy you in being able to be with family this Thanksgiving. I fear I’ll be on the road. 🙂 But we’ll celebrate in other ways, I hope.

  11. I’m sorry for your loss, Vickie. It is tough to lose those we love. The past 3-4 years have been tough for us, too, losing my BIL and my MIL and we loved them both very much.

    Even to this day they are missed. But there is much to be thankful for, too. I lost these dear ones, but gained a beautiful granddaughter.

    I only wish that man would be man and not try to play god — rather let God be God. I say this because of the poisons in our environment. I don’t been CO2 because that is a God-given part of life that is required by all plant life, but rather man’s attempts to control those things he shouldn’t (like weather and such as a means of warfare). And similar kinds of things.

    Dangerous toys should not be put in the hands of dangerous men who probably haven’t emotionally advanced beyond age 3…if that…

    Opps, off into something else. Your post most certainly affected me.

  12. Hi Laurie G.!

    Okay, I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving through you. I so love the holiday and I love all the time spent in the kitchen.

    My granddaughter was born on Nov. 9th. How about that? Have a wonderful holiday!

  13. Hi Kirsten!

    Your comment about Squanto made me cry, too. What a wonderful teacher — don’t have many like that, I fear. Not anymore. Probably I think because their hands are tied.

    Thanks so much for your post. I loved hearing what you’re thankful for.

  14. Hi Liz!

    Oh, my goodness! Of course it would have to be. No wonder the women who were captured by Indians never wished to return…

    Women in Indian country always had help — always — mothers, aunts, children, grandmothers — and all older women were considered grandmothers. Although they, too, cooked the meals and cared for the men, it was never overdone and a man was considered a brute and sometimes kicked out of the tribe if he laid a hand on a woman.

    Did I mention that it was the elder women of the tribe who held the hand of power in the tribe?

    🙂 I loved the history.

  15. Karen, as always very much appriciated the lessons in the American Indian way of life. I especially like the Strawberry festival.. One of my fav fruits.
    As we have already had Thanksgiving here in Canada, ours is in October, I always give thanks for the many blessing in my life. My family and friends.
    So on this your Thanksgiving holiday time. I wish you all the same. May your table be bountiful and your blessings many…

  16. Hi Kathleen!

    What a beautiful way you have of expressing yourself. I thought the strawberry festival was amazing, also.

    Thanks for your very welcome well wishes. May the coming holidays be bright for you. 🙂

  17. Kay,
    What a lovely post! AS ALWAYS!I always enjoy reading your posts so much. Loved the movie SQUANTO. Also, your cover is wonderful for LAKOTA SURRENDER. It’s awesome.Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    Hugs, and mega congratulations!
    Cheryl P.

  18. Hi Kay,
    Great post! I always enjoy reading your posts and your books. Looks like Jimmy Thomas on your cover. I love the excerpts at Sweet and Sexy Divas.

    Congrats and hugs!

  19. Always an interesting post. I’m thankful that my mom is still healthy at 89 and my husband and two wonderful daughters. Unfortunately I am sick and the one daughter works and the other is visiting her boyfriend’s family earlier so I am trying to manage the cooking – I don’t want to disappoint.

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