Real Thanksgiving provides Native American perspective on origin of American holiday

A Real Thanksgiving Dinner — designed to present the Native American perspective on the first Thanksgiving dinner as well as tell their version of events regarding the arrival of the Pilgrims and other early European settlers in North America— was held Monday in the flexible programming space in Minnesota State’s  Centennial Student Union. The.

The event was hosted by Director of American Indian Affairs Megan Heutmaker in collaboration with the American Indigenous studies program. 

“After the Mayflower,” the first episode in the documentary series “We Shall Remain,” was shown as part of the event, which also featured a Thanksgiving meal buffet. Around 30 students and faculty attended.

“This is something I started in collaboration with the American Indigenous studies program,” said Heutmaker. “We aren’t really talking about the real history around Thanksgiving, especially in our K-12 schools. We’re taught about the Pilgrims and the Indians having a meal together which was not the case.”

According to “After the Mayflower,” the real Thanksgiving dinner did take place and was a three-day celebration, but it had a darker edge than is typically brought up in most history classes. To start with, the Wampanoag, who were part of the Algonquin nation, had been largely wiped out by an unknown disease (or diseases) prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Some historians estimate as much as 90% of the original indigenous population died at this time.

Furthermore, also according to “After the Mayflower,” the ensuing decades saw continuing waves of European settlers gradually force the Algonquins from their lands through highly unethical means, leading eventually to King Philip’s War. This would result in the leader of the Wampanoag, Metacomet, who was also known as King Philip, being killed and his head displayed in Plymouth colony for over 25 years.

The event included a discussion following the showing of “After the Mayflower.” Many students took the time to ask questions about the events depicted in the documentary. The discussion also included a wide range of topics relevant to Native Americans, including how people first arrived in North America, the complicated legacy of President Lincoln and what many see now as the horrible legacy of Christopher Columbus.

Early on in this discussion, Heutmaker brought up the Dakota 38 being the largest execution in American history, which was approved by Lincoln.

“There’s lots of sides to people and lots of sides to history,” said Heutmaker, in reference to Lincoln signing off on the execution of the Dakota 38.

One topic talked about at length was the use of Native American terminology, particularly to name places across America.

“One thing I was unaware of is how native language is still used throughout English and Spanish languages. I think that it’s really fascinating that in a way we stole their culture but still highlight it in our day to day prefaces and in our behavior,” said Xavier Thomas.

This part of the conversation included Heutmaker describing the correct ways to pronounce Mankato and Minnesota. Heutmaker pointed out that Mankato is even a misspelling and the correct pronunciation is thus “Mah-Kato.”

Header photo: The event was hosted by Director of American Indian Affairs Megan Heutmaker in collaboration with the American Indigenous studies program. ( NATHANAEL TILAHUN/The Reporter)

Write to Jeremy Redlien at

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