This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years

Long marginalized and misrepresented in U.S. history,

the Wampanoags are bracing for the 400th anniversary of the

first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621


By Dana Hedgpeth



Anita Peters, who is Mashpee Wampanoag and goes by the name Mother Bear, packs up the traditional clothing and furnishings from the wetu, a traditional bark-covered wood-framed building that is part of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum 30 miles from Plymouth, Mass. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post)


PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Overlooking the chilly waters of Plymouth Bay, about three dozen tourists swarmed a park ranger as he recounted the history of Plymouth Rock — the famous symbol of the arrival of the Pilgrims here four centuries ago.

Nearby, others waited to tour a replica of the Mayflower, the ship that carried the Pilgrims across the ocean.


On a hilltop above stood a quiet tribute to the American Indians who helped the starving Pilgrims survive. Few people bother to visit the statue of Ousamequin — the chief, or sachem, of the Wampanoag Nation whose people once numbered somewhere between 30,000 to 100,000 and whose land once stretched from Southeastern Massachusetts to parts of Rhode Island.

Long marginalized and misrepresented in the American story, the Wampanoags are braced for what’s coming this month as the country marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and Indians.

But the actual history of what happened in 1621 bears little resemblance to what most Americans are taught in grade school, historians say. There was likely no turkey served. There were no feathered headdresses worn. And, initially, there was no effort by the Pilgrims to invite the Wampanoags to the feast they’d made possible.

Just as Native American activists have demanded the removal of Christopher Columbus statues and pushed to transform the Columbus holiday into an acknowledgment of his brutality toward Indigenous people, they have long objected to the popular portrayal of Thanksgiving.


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