Thanksgiving & The American Indian

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Welcome to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

And thanks for coming to the blog today.  I will be giving away a Tradepaper copy of SENECA SURRENDER to some lucky blogger…a value of $13.99.  So come on in, leave a comment.  That’s all one has to do to enter into the drawing.  On the right side of the page here are the Giveaway Guidelines.  Please read them as they are the rules that govern our giveaways.  Note, too, that I depend on you to come here on Wednesday or Thursday to discover whether or not you are the winner.  Unlike some other sites, we do not contact you.  Okay?  On with the blog.


Last week I did a radio interview and we talked a great deal about SENECA SURRENDER and the Iroquois Confederation — and I thought I’d post it here before we get into the actual subject of the blog today — it’s about 30 minutes long.  So if you have the time, come and give it a listen:

thanksgivingYummm…  The smells of pumpkin pie, turkey and cranberry sauce remind me that Thanksgiving is close at hand.

Of course we are all pretty much aware 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 more to the story as Paul Harvey used to say.  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, teachers, and elders.  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 because 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), and of course deer meat or other meat when available.  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 festival after that was the Green Corn Fesitval.  Again, the people thanked the Creator 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 season festival following that 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 stillremember to this day, but also it gave to this nation a fighting spirit for freedom.  In these times when there seems to be a forgetfulness about our American roots, it is wonderful to remember that the American Indian and the Love of Freedom went hand-in-hand.  I know I am thankful for my family and my husband and daughters and my granddaughter and grandson.  I’m thankful to be able to travel this beautiful country.  I’m thankful that I was raised in a country where one could voice one’s opinion regardless of the wishes of the “King,” even if those freedoms are not as easily found today as they once were.

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?

Come on in and join in the discussion.

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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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24 thoughts on “Thanksgiving & The American Indian”

  1. Karen- I loved this article. I did not know about the many festivals. Thank you fir sharing. I hope you & your family have a wonderful one. I’m very thankful for my family, health, and spirituality. We plan on spending Thanksgiving with my husband’s family down in Oklahoma. Again Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you have a Very Merry Christmas, & A Happy New Year.

    • Hi Tonya! Thank you so much. Sounds like you have a wonderful Thanksgiving in store for you and your family. How I love the state of Oklahoma. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, also.

  2. Great article. I am having a quiet Thanksgiving. We have lost some family members recently and one joined the Peace Corps. We will still celebrate. I am thankful that all my children are healthy.

    • Hi DebraG!

      Sometimes the quiet holidays are best. Hope that this will be for you. Sorry to hear that you’ve lost some family members recently — so sorry. Thanks for your comment, also.

  3. Hi Karen,
    You consistently do it again and again, stumping us all with a new batch of ideas and notables that we have either not heard of, pondered, didn’t care on some of the history and background and lastly just simply forgot some of what you actually put and keep in our heads about the Wild West, Native American Tribes and just other miscellaneous facts that fascinate us each and every blog with another new topic, like your radio segment for starters. We love you completely, you make your books come alive for us. Thank you again for today’s goodies and tidbits of fun back when. Definitely a need to check it out later when time permits, 4:39am right now here in LA County. The Native American stump question queen for us again today. Thanks Karen, Lainey

    • Oh, Elaine, how you make my heart happy. Thank you for your compliments. I am humbled. I do so love the American Indian part of history that I just love sharing these little bits of history that we often are unaware of. I guess the main lesson I’ve learned is that we are all people, and all share so many different traits — we are a people regardless of race, color, religion, etc. I think this is the lesson I keep learning over and over from my research. : )

  4. Great Post! I always enjoy your Native American posts.
    Having a small family Thanksgiving. Am thankful most of my family is healthy..

    • Hi Estella!

      Thank you so very much. By the way, have you ever read the book, LAKOTA PRINCESS? It’s a story where the heroine shares your name. Different spelling, but the same name. One of those stories based on one of my dearest friends. : )

  5. Loved learning about all the festivals! They liked to party. 😉 I am thankful for a healthy family. That is a blessing to me!

  6. For the past 40 years have spent Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law’s in PA, and will do so again. Smaller this year, only about 15 of us. We’ve had up to 30+ with 4 or 5 blended families. Everyone knows what to bring, what to do, and it goes rather effortlessly, thanks to Marge’s well planned preparation! Hope you and yours have a lovely celebration.

  7. Always love your informative and interesting posts, Kay. Thank you! I am thankful for my family and in particular this year, our new granddaughter. We are celebrating on Friday this year and I look forward to stretching out the holiday.

    • Hi Tanya!

      I am thankful for similar things as you this year. Congratulations on your new granddaughter. So fun — I love it. Thanks for all your wonderful words.

  8. I really love learning about other cultures. I think a lot of the “old” ones got most things right. All except the sacrificing rituals. As to Thanksgiving, we had ours last Sunday. Two members of our family have to work on Thursday but it was a wonderful day. I am thankful for my family and that we can gather round and enjoy our time together!

    • I’m with you on the sacrifice — I think the world can do without that quite easily. They did get a lot of things right and sometimes I wish that we had learned from them — thanks for your thoughts and for coming to the blog today. : )

  9. Karen, I enjoyed reading your blog. Loved learning about the different festivals too!! I’m very thankful for my family, our health and our Lord!!!! He has answered a lot of our prayers! !! Our kids have to work Thanksgiving. My Husband is going to warm our turkey up and I’ll be fixing other stuff to go with it before our daughter goes to work. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!! Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years!!!!

  10. We have much to be thankful for: a good marriage, 3 wonderful children, 4 grandchildren, and a little great-granddaughter. This year we decided not to try to get together on Thanksgiving Day. No reason to put everyone in the middle of a tug of war between families. We will all be getting together on Sunday instead. The kids all decided they wanted pizza for our delayed Thanksgiving meal and I still to make pumpkin and apple pies. Thanksgiving Day we will be at home watching the parade and football games and working around the house. We will be on call with the Red Cross for fires ( which we are most of the time anyway), and will be keeping things simple. The holidays, unfortunately, seem to be a time of increased home fires.

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • It seems to me, Patricia, that you have a terrific Thanksgiving planned. We’re celebrating on Sunday, also — and Thursday I hope will be a writing day. : ) Some other things I have to do, also, but mostly writing, I hope. : )

      Have fun, Patricia — sounds like fun!

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