Thanksgiving, Christianity look different to Native Americans

By November 28, 2019

USA (MNN) – In 1621, Plymouth Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe gathered for a harvest festival and laid a foundation for the U.S. Thanksgiving Day tradition. Today, many Native Americans share a differing view of the holiday.

Ron Hutchcraft of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries shares some of the Native perspectives he’s encountered through the On Eagles’ Wings ministry. More about OEW here.

The first Thanksgiving

Historians say the first Thanksgiving marked a time of good relations between area pilgrims and local Natives. The Great Chief Massasoit and the first Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford trusted one another. Visitors to the area can see them both commemorated in statue and stone.

To many people, Thanksgiving is about food and fellowship. Native Americans have a different perspective.
(Photo courtesy Preslie Hirsch via Unsplash)

“That peace treaty lasted for 50 years. It’s probably the only treaty that has lasted where both sides really kept it,” says Hutcraft. “During that time…there was equal justice under the law, there was respect for boundaries and mutual benefit in having relationships with each other.”

Years later at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Native chiefs were present when the Iroquois Confederacy was used as a model for representative democracy.

Thanksgiving as the beginning of the end

Unfortunately, the peace deal between Massasoit and Bradford was later broken following the leaders’ deaths. Some Native Americans view Thanksgiving as the “beginning of the end,” Hutchcraft says, due to the 400 years that followed. Native communities lost land, language, and many lives.

“The sad part is that Native Americans, if I can kind of do this symbolically, they were at the table [during] the first Thanksgiving. But…they’ve been missing at the table ever since.”

Many Native communities are struggling today. Youth suicide rates are three- to 10-percent higher than the rest of the nation. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant and Native girls experience sexual violence at much higher rates. There are even cases of girls disappearing from reservations across America, Hutchcraft says.  Learn more about Native America’s challenges here.

Reaching Native American communities

Despite, or perhaps because of, historical efforts to reach Native Americans for Christ, Hutchcraft perceives a disconnect. Only an estimated four percent of Native Americans are believers today.

“Our enemy has created a double blindness… he has blinded Native Americans to Jesus by convincing them He’s a white man’s God. And, he has blinded American Christians to Native Americans. So, nothing changes,” Hutchcraft says.

A closer look at Jesus’ life reveals many similarities to Native Americans, he continues. Jesus was “a Mediterranean Jew [who] came from a tribe called Judah [and] lived on land that had been occupied by others. This is starting to sound familiar,” Hutchcraft says.

“He lived poor, he lived homeless, [and] died a violent death. So much like the reservation.”

(Photo courtesy OEW)

The young Native believers trained by On Eagles’ Wings are the future of Native American outreach and they form the face of hope today, Hutchcraft says. “When the messengers are Native, all of a sudden there is a bridge there that couldn’t exist otherwise.”

Help Native American believers bring the hope of Jesus to Native communities across the U.S. and Canada.

On a more personal level, Hutchcraft encourages believers to get to know Native Americans and learn from them. Please pray that the Gospel message will reach this people group.

Header image depicts an oil painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris titled, The First Thanksgiving, 1621.

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