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Wampanoag Member Annawon Weeden Shares Thanksgiving History with QCC

December 2022
  • Executive Director of DEI Kevin Lovaincy, Annawon Weeden and Director of Student Life Ashlee Givens
    Executive Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Kevin Lovaincy, Annawon Weeden and Director of Student Life Ashlee Givens

On November 29, a member of the Wampanoag tribal community, Annawon Weeden, gave an engaging presentation on the history of Thanksgiving, as well as his perspective on indigenous identity.

Weeden was raised in Rhode Island, later settling down in Mashpee, MA, the home of his mother's Wampanoag Tribal community. He has also spent time at his father's Mashantucket Pequot Tribal community in Connecticut.

"The land in Mashpee has been passed down through the women in my family for 350 years and we are still here. A lot of tribes can't say that. Most indigenous people were relocated to reservations far from their homes. We've been trying to prove ourselves and our land since colonization," Weeden said.

"Many people don't know that the words that you use today are from our languages. The word 'Massachusetts' means 'great hill place' and is a term that originally referred to the area that is now known as Boston and its surrounding suburbs," he continued.

Along with the erasure of Native American narratives, there has been a tradition of misinformation about the origin of Thanksgiving. The holiday didn't arise from a friendly meal between native Americans and pilgrims, but rather from colonialism and war.

The early Pilgrims celebrated puritanical days of prayer and thanks but did not prepare feasts. There is evidence that the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims had a gathering around 1621; however, it was an accidental occurrence and didn't result in a celebratory meal.

In these early decades, many tribal communities like the Wampanoag tried to welcome and integrate with these new people, yet tension built throughout years of exploitation and disease brought by colonists and eventually broke into violence. 

In May of 1637, colonists in what is now known as Connecticut banded together with Narragansett and Mohegan allies and murdered hundreds of Pequot people, including women and children (now referred to as the Pequot massacre or Mystic massacre). That fall, John Winthrop declared a day of giving thanks and celebration to commemorate the slaughter of the Pequot people.

This tradition continued again years later when colonists celebrated victories after King Philip's War which decimated the Wampanoag, Narragansett and several other tribes.

Much later, after a Union Army victory at Gettysburg in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as an official day of thanksgiving and it has been a national holiday ever since.

Even with this bloody history, Weeden noted, "Every time we gather, we have an opportunity to give thanks."

Weeden also touched upon the generational trauma that many indigenous people experience and how this trauma can get in the way of you being who you are. When he was younger, he was teased for having long hair, which is part of his culture. His teachers didn't support him and even passed on misinformation.

"I didn't know enough about my identity back then and I even thought I wasn't native enough," he recalled. 

Weeden persevered to fully embrace his culture and now spends much of his time educating and advocating. He is a sought after speaker in New England and nationally.

When asked by a QCC faculty member how to support indigenous students at QCC, Weeden said, "A lot of kids feel their identity is denied so it's crucial to get the awareness out."

He also recommended promoting native history courses and exploring native languages.

"As a Wampanoag, I should help folks understand my identity," Weeden said, before passing around a large quahog shell. "Our people use it to make beads and then weave the beads into wearable stories. The quahog is one of the most magical parts of New England. "