This Land Is Their Land by David J. Silverman
While the original pilgrims really did host a feast attended by Indigenous peoples in 1621, the occasion neither marked the Natives’ welcome to the Europeans nor initiated an annual event; for the Plymouth colonists, a “day of Thanksgiving” called for fasting and prayer, not a feast, while for the ninety Wampanoag in attendance the gathering signaled merely a local alliance—not a general invitation to take their lands. In This Land Is Their Land (Bloomsbury, $32) David J. Silverman, the author of Thundersticks, looks afresh at a tradition that doesn’t commemorate a historical occasion as much as reflect the accretion of a set of half-truths. Examining four centuries of politics, erasures, and myths, he counters the traditionally one-sided story of the national holiday by putting it into the context of Native American history and culture—both of which pre-dated the European “discovery” of territory neither “wild nor “new,” just as they have survived U.S. efforts to write them out of the nation’s record. Focusing on the Wampanoag, Silverman delves deeply into indigenous rituals, beliefs, hierarchies, methods of warfare, economies, and much more, highlights where Natives and Europeans were most likely to misunderstand each other, and, noting that “the question…is how to move forward,” takes the narrative though Thanksgiving’s latest iteration as the National Day of Mourning.