“The lie of friendly relations does not do justice to our people,” says David Two Arrows Vanderhoop, speaking on the way that the true story of the relationship between Native Americans and European colonizers has been misrepresented for decades. “It isn’t the truth of what happened, yet it’s still been taught to our youth.”
“The Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder of the horrific history that me and other native people have gone through,” adds Vanderhoop, who is an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder.
To address this lack of transparency, the organization, Sassafras Earth Education, is hosting two events — one open to the public and one for tribal families, tribal members, and all native people.
The public event titled “The Truth about Thanksgiving: The Ungrateful Taking of a Continent,” will feature a talk by Vanderhoop followed by a workshop.
“I grew up here and I see the devastation to my people and the genocide and cultural erasure that has happened and I talk about it,” says Vanderhoop. “I have the courage to talk about it. I want this Island to have the courage to listen to it, to bring healing to this whole situation between native people and the colonizers that’s in my face every day.”
The talk and workshop, according to the flyer for the event, is designed to help people “educate [themselves] on the truth behind the Thanksgiving holiday and the origin myth of the United States.”
Saskia Vanderhoop, David’s wife and co-founder of Sassafras, explains the goal of the event. “We want to make sure that the resulting historical trauma that is present in native communities can be heard. We want people to come to the realization that they are living on stolen land.”
A similar event has taken place for the past six years at a variety of locations, although this will be the first time that the talk will be followed by a workshop aimed to “encourage all to activate and bring healing to our community.”
“We want to activate people to bring these truths to their colleagues, to their families, their friends and their dinner table if they celebrate,” says Saskia. “We hope to help them to dispel the myths.”
“It’s time for the general public to know our truths,” says David. “Time to stop teaching our children historic lies about thanksgiving and the origin myth of this country. He adds, “The true story is not readily available. The things that were taught to me in school when I was a child and the same things are being taught today.”
The other event, intended for tribal families and native people only, is titled “The Truth About Thanksgiving: The Ungrateful Taking of a Continent.” “For a lot of native people this is a day of mourning,” says Saskia. “It causes a lot of trauma.”
As described in a flyer for the event, “Thanksgiving is a reminder of the genocide, the theft of land and the erasure of native cultures. It’s time to come together with tribal families to create true awareness of our people and U.S. history.” The event, to be held at the Sassafras Earth Education grounds, is described as “A fire and talking circle. A space to express your views, feelings and vision for the future. When we come together in a circle, we can heal and create change.”
“We decided to host two separate events,” says Saskia. “It’s really important for our organization as an indigenous nonprofit to host something specifically for tribal people and native people only.”
Both events are about exploring the truth about Thanksgiving and all the lies that have been told about it, according to Saskia.
“We need to speak better to, and relate better to all BIPOC people,” she says. “We need to look to the First Nations, the first people to heal and to create peace.”
Among the many other events, classes, and workshops offered through the Sassafras organization is a workshop addressing “Indigenous Awareness, Cultural Sensitivity and Competency Training from a Wampanoag Perspective.” The training opportunity, which consists of four sessions in person or on Zoom, can be booked for interested groups through the Sassafrasmvy.org website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Truth about Thanksgiving: The Ungrateful Taking of a Continent” — a talk by David Two Arrows Vanderhoop and workshop will take place at the Oak Bluffs Library on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. Free and open to all. Donations accepted.