For Thanksgiving with the fourth graders, I wanted to share the story of the Native Americans before the arrival of the Pilgrims, rather than the misleading story of Thanksgiving. I put together a short story and had them try to understand paragraphs of the story in small groups. After about 15 minutes, I had the class read the story to each other, with each group reading their section. Afterwards, I asked some questions about things that surprised them and what they thought of the story, and then I had the students make pieces of corn, as corn was the staple food for the Wompanoag people. On the leaves, they were supposed to thank Mother Nature for something in their lives. I felt that this activity was school appropriate, but centered the experiences of a group of people that is often erased from the history books. It still kept the spirit of thankfulness, but it was through the lens of the Native Americans.
Here is the story we read:
Wampanoag people lived in America for thousands of years. They were in
the country before Columbus and the Pilgrims arrived, and they had a way
of life that different from the people of Europe. For the Wampanoag,
every living thing was sacred, and they gave thanks for the water, the
plants, the animals....even the bugs. They ate by hunting, fishing,
gathering nuts and berries, and planting crops. They hunted animals
like deer and rabbits, and when they had eaten all the meat, they made
clothes from the fur and tools from the bones. They did not waste any
part of the animals.
The Wampanoag also fished in the rivers and the ocean for fish, whales, and clams. They would go to the forests to gather nuts, berries, and mushrooms, which they would put in soups and eat fresh. Most importantly, they were very good at planting crops--the Wampanoag would bury fish in the soil in order to give the soil more nutrients, and then they would plant corn where they had put the fish. Corn was the most important food that they had because they ate it every day and it was very filling. The Wampanoag were very grateful for everything that nature gave them, and they would often thank "Mother Earth" for her gifts.
In 1620, a group of British colonists named the Pilgrims came to the American continent in a boat. They did not have the food, spices, and drinks that they were used to in England, so they did not know how to eat in America. They did not know which berries, mushrooms, and nuts were poisonous and which were edible and they did not know how to farm because the soil was dry and hard. The Wompanoag people were nice to the Pilgrims and taught them how to gather edible berries, nuts, and mushrooms and they showed them how to plant corn seeds with a fish in the ground in order to provide more nutrients.
In the Fall of 1621, the Pilgrims harvested their food, and they were very happy. They were so happy that they had a huge meal to celebrate. They made corn bread, chicken, deer, and pumpkin and they ate for three whole days. The Pilgrims did not invite the Native Americans to the feast, and when the Native Americans arrived, there was not enough food. The Wompanoags went hunting and brought deer to eat with the Pilgrims. "