The American Indian & Thanksgiving

banner 2I hope you’ll forgive me backtracking a bit here.  I somehow missed the Thanksgiving post, and so wanted to go back just a little in time and post this blog about the American Indian & 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, a very young Adam Beach, at that.  Now, of course Disney dramatizes the actual story of the first Thanksgiving, but because it is based upon some truth, I really would highly recommend the movie.thumbnailCASS51BJ

So 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 amongstf several festivals that were celebrated by the Eastern Indians — in particular I’m talking about the Iroquois, since this is the tribe that I have researched.  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, teachers, 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.

stortell[1]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 and included making maple sugar — did you know that it was the American Indian who gave us the recipe for maple sugar?  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 would raise watch towers for the purposes of keeping birds and animals from the produce.

th[3]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.

thumbnailCAX427DOThe 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.

thumbnailCAW0AONKCan 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.

thumbnailCAGFJN5KThe 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.

Before I leave you for today, let me take a moment to share with you a link to a story that, while not a story of Thanksgiving, it yet a story of special thanks.  I’ll be giving away a copy of this book as an ebook to some lucky blogger today.  So come on in and leave a comment.


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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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29 thoughts on “The American Indian & Thanksgiving”

  1. Well that is fascinating! I did not know they had that many celebrations every year for specific things – including Thanksgiving. Cool! I can’t picture them with strawberries, though.

  2. Kay, I always learn so much from you. I know a bit about the Iroquois from my days teaching American Lit, but I didn’t know about the “three sisters” or the Strawberry Festival! I live in strawberry country and we have a big (commercial) festival every spring. I was kinda sad about a white dog as a sacrifice (I am a dog nut), but hubba hubba, a pic of Adam Beach at any age is the perfect way to start the day! Happy belated Thanksgiving to you and that new grandbaby! xoxox

  3. Thanks for the post! it always nice to remember and give thanks for when things first began. I like the idea of things being paved with strawberries!

  4. Adam Beach (SIGH)! I so enjoy your blogs, Karen. You always include information that is new to me. Thanks once again for being so informative.

  5. Very informative as usual.

    However, since I just recently put down my West Highland White Terrier, I did not like the fact that they sacrificed a white dog. (Poor dog)

  6. This post was very interesting. There is so much information here that I did not know, I certainly didn’t think of the many festivals they held nor the meaning behind them.
    Thank you

  7. Hi Kay! I enjoyed reading about the festivals the Iroquois celebrated. Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating history. I too am thankful for my family and the freedoms we enjoy! I wish you and yours a joyous holiday season!

  8. Thanks for the post! It’s so nice to be reminded of where everything began. I love the idea of the way being paved with strawberries!

  9. Hi Kay, So much history that nobody knows about. Native history is so fascinating, as you and I both know. Too bad the history books ignored it all. Adam Beach is beautiful. There are so many Native sons who are, too. But only a few would ever show themselves like that. Too shy…
    Hope you all had a Great Thanksgiving. We shared with 25 others who were also alone for the day. Now that is fun. We have done this for the third year and you get some very interesting conversations.

  10. As always, Kay, an extremely interesting post! My mom read the story of Squanto to her first graders for over 32 years. It’s such a great story.

    Thanks for sharing!


  11. Hi Tanya!

    Thank you so much — what a wonderful thing to live in strawberry country. My family loves strawberries so much — sometimes I think we alone keep it busy. : )

  12. Hi Kirsten!

    Did she really? You know, until I started researching the American Indian history, I didn’t even kno about Squanto. A same to waste such beautiful history.

  13. Hi, Karen. I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday. We in this country often forget just how much we have to be thankful for. Spending even a little time in many other countries would make that very clear.

    Some easy and interesting reading on Native American Thanksgiving celebrations can be found in THE CIRCLE OF THANKS by Joseph Bruchac. It is aimed at grades 1 through 5 reading level. It is a book of 13 poems based on native american songs and prayers and depicts thanksgiving ceremonies of different tribes and seasons. He is an Abenaki and has written many wonderful books for both children and adults. They give a good insight into Native American beliefs and way of life. He has also written SQUANTO’S JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING. I have enjoyed his books for many years. He has good illustrators who bring the essence of his stories to life.

  14. Hello Karen. I loved reading this. I always love your information about the Indians. Just sad that most of your give-aways are ebooks. But, thank you anyway for this info. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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