Review: This Land Is Their Land

This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman

Cover of This Land is Their LandReleased just before Thanksgiving last year, This Land is Their Land serves to tell the story of both a tribe and the holiday they helped inspire. Unlike other narratives of Thanksgiving, this one places the Native American tribe at the heart of the story, the Wampanoag, front and center. As many are familiar with through the narrative of Thanksgiving taught in school, when Plymouth colony was struggling, the local tribe helped them by providing food and farming advice. They then celebrated together after the harvest, which is what we know as the first Thanksgiving. However, the real story is not as happy and cheerful.

In reality, the truce between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims was lopsided. The Pilgrims demanded more of the Natives than the Wampanoag sachems truly realized. Most of the differences came from cultural views differing.  What one group saw as ironclad agreements, the other saw more as friendship.  And as the years passed, the chasms kept growing, eventually leading to King Phillip’s War. Then like with the more famous tribes of the Plains, the Wampanoags would eventually find themselves forced onto reservations, with broken treaties with the United States government, and often discriminated against in the modern era as many Easterners did not want to acknowledge that Tribes still had land in New England. The latter is yet another example of why for many Native Americans Thanksgiving is not a holiday they celebrate and instead is a day of mourning.

As a whole, this book was packed with information, both about the items mentioned in the subtitle and also the history of the Wampanoags and other nearby tribes from the pre-colonial era to the modern era. I think readers will understand the Wampanoag’s role in helping the Pilgrims goes well beyond what is depicted in the traditional Thanksgiving and that in later centuries the tribe was treated poorly.  Silverman took the time to do a lot of historical research and interviewing of modern Wampanoag’s.  What I felt to be the biggest downfall in the book is that he kept describing the tribes as “Indians” instead of the more proper “Native Americans.” He did give an explanation for this, but I felt the reasons were not adequate.

Did you realize Thanksgiving had such a complicated history?

This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.


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