M.V. Museum explores the history and myths around Thanksgiving

David Vanderhoop will be one of the participants during the discussion. — Courtesy M.V. Museum

Many pervasive myths surround Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrated by the majority of Americans. Historian, professor, and author David Silverman will join Aquinnah Wampanoag and tribal elder David Vanderhoop for a conversation about these myths and the troubled history of the annual holiday in a virtual event titled “This Land is Their Land” on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 5:30 pm, hosted on Zoom by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Silverman and Vanderhoop will discuss how Thanksgiving fits into broader misconceptions of the U.S.’s colonial settlement and its indigenous history. Attendees are asked to come prepared for an evening of uncomfortable truths related to the theft, oppression, exploitation, and erasure of Indigenous America that continues to the present day.

“As the 400th anniversary of the English colonizers’ arrival in Massachusetts, we must remember that their boats were watched from the shore by those whose ancestors had lived on the land since time immemorial,” a press release from the museum states. According to the museum’s interim executive director Heather Seger, “The Martha’s Vineyard Museum is working hard to be a comprehensive, inclusive institution that amplifies the voices of Vineyarders who have traditionally been overlooked, including our first people, the Wampanoag. With our programs and exhibitions, we are striving to challenge myths that have given aid and comfort to injustice over the centuries. The museum has not always excelled at this, but we are working on listening, learning, and doing better.”

David Vanderhoop, Aquinnah Wampanoag, was born and raised on the island of Noepe, currently known as Martha’s Vineyard. Vanderhoop co-founded Sassafras Earth Education, a nonprofit organization located on Wampanoag ancestral lands. He has organized and facilitated webinars and conferences on topics like decolonization, truth in history, cultural appropriation, racism, and acknowledging the role of first people in outdoor education and beyond. Vanderhoop is recognized in his Wampanoag community as a leader and holder of Wampanoag history, knowledge, and legends.

David J. Silverman is professor of history at George Washington University. He is the author of several books on Native American, colonial American, and American racial history, including “This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and Troubled History of Thanksgiving” and “Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America.” He is the recent recipient of the William Hickling Prescott Award for Excellence in Historical Writing, given by the Massachusetts branch of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, the Atlantic, National Geographic, and the Daily Beast.

Admission to “This Land is Their Land” is free to MVM members and Island school teachers, and $10 for nonmembers. To register, visit mvmuseum.org/land.