The Pilgrims were not adept at farming in their new homeland. Whereas the Native Americans were experts at growing maize, the Pilgrims were slow to learn. Their harvests of 1621 and 1622 were meager, and the Native Americans offered to exchange some of their harvest for beads and other materials. The Pilgrims eagerly responded but, in time, demonstrated bad faith by failing to fulfill their side of the bargain. The Native American leaders, proud men of their word, were insulted by the rude way in which they were treated. Tempers flared and, in time, open hostilities broke out.
History chronicles the subsequent colonialization, the infringement of colonists on Native American lands, the violation of the Native Americans’ sacred beliefs and burial sites, and the forcing of the Native Americans farther and farther west. Treaties, massacres, seizure of lands, relocations, formation of reservations — all of these represent a poor return for the Native Americans’ investment of generosity.
Nevertheless, the commemoration of the “First Thanksgiving” that most U.S. citizens know is really not a celebration of bounties of the land. It should, instead, be a time to consider what might have been — an honorable, mutually beneficial collaboration between two disparate peoples from different parts of the world.
In the meantime, remember that the celebration of thankfulness for the bounties of the land, the oceans, the streams, and of those things that make life wonderful did not begin with the Pilgrims. The Native Americans were commemorating these bounties long before the Pilgrims arrived. The customs still survive, more beautiful and meaningful today because of their fragile and spiritual nature."