Thanksgiving Feast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

As we all begin preparing for the family feast, let’s return to the first Thanksgiving which happened in 1621.  What would this feast look like?  What food would they have? And how does that differ from what we have now? Many of you are probably aware that the traditional turkey and cranberries are species native to America, and even more specifically the New England area where the first feast took place.  For this comparison, I will look at what ingredients are native to America, however, not specifically to New England.  Many of the food we love to have for Thanksgiving are actually native to South America.

I will begin with one of my favorite side dishes, green bean casserole.  Green or String beans have been cultivated in Mexico for over 7,000 years.  They actually originated in Peru and migrated North overtime.  The Spanish explorers introduced green beans to Europe in the 16th century.  In New England “Three Sisters” Corn, Beans, and Squash were present. Although they might not have been green beans. But for you Corn Casserole lovers, corn was definitely present.  And squashes that would be used for pumpkin pies, although the spices would have been different.  Other than the green beans, a major component of green bean casserole is the cream of mushroom soup.  Mushrooms would be available for gathering but the cream is not native to America.  Cattle were brought to the Americas with the European colonists.  Bison are similar to cattle but were never domesticated and they do not have the large utters for milk producing seen in the domesticated cows and thus cannot be milked.

Moving on to arguably the best part about Thanksgiving, the stuffing (or dressing)!  Stuffing is made with bread.  Bread as we know if (Loaf) is from the Old War.  Egypt, Rome, India, Persia, and many other counties have been making variations of bread from wheats and like grains for many thousands of years.  In the Americas, corn was ground and made into meals and tortillas.  Mexico is still famous for tortillas, a bread-like flat baked dough that they have been making since 100 BC.  There were forms of bread present, although I do not know if tortillas would work in stuffing.

The final side I will be talking about is the potato.  Whether you use them for mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, or part of your stuffing, they remain a family favorite side dish, especially with gravy.  Most people associate the potato with Ireland and the Potato Famine.  However, the Inca grew potatoes since 8,000-5,000 BC.  The potato plant produced a rather pretty purple star shaped flower that the French aristocracy, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, wore it in their clothing.  Not only can you have your mashed potatoes, but you can also make a nice centerpiece with the flowers.Thank you for reading this blog and enjoy your New and Old World food with all your family and friends.

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It is no secret that since the colonization of America, that the government has not treated First Nation tribes with the respect and fairness due to them.  Early settlers forcibly took land from the tribes already living here.  As time progressed, the government became involved in the disruption of First Nations People.  One of the most devastating government acts was the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears as Native Americans were forced from their homes in the eastern US to Oklahoma.

Although US-Tribal relations have improved since the 1830s, Tribes today still struggle to fight against discrimination, voter suppression, poverty, and lack of respect, all a legacy of colonization and western expansion.  For example, federal recognition is a major milestone in tribes gaining sovereignty as a nation but can be very difficult to obtain.  The tribe must prove that its members are direct descendants from one or more tribes throughout history and that they maintain their own governance of their members.  The tribe must provide documentation of membership and their government such as a constitution.  One of the more complicated criteria is that the tribe must be able to prove that they have maintained their identity as “American Indian” or “Aboriginal” from their beginning to the present.  This might appear to be simple but the Brothertown Tribe is finding this to be very complicated.

The Brothertown Tribe was created by member of many different tribes of the Northeast known as the praying tribes.  They are currently trying to become a recognized tribe but are having difficulties due to their previous adoption of European materials and ways of life.  An archaeological survey, conducted by Craig Cipolla of the University of Pennsylvania, of Brothertown sites sought to aid in connecting the current tribe to their ancestral identity.   However, according to the Office of Indian Affairs in 2009, the archaeological investigation proved that the tribe showed little evidence of maintaining an identity as Native American.  While the tribe did adopt Christianity, built a Methodist church, and lived on farms similar to those of European settlers, this does not mean that they do not identify as Native American.  In 1839 the members of the Brothertown tribe were given US citizenship and land.  By signing this citizenship act, the members were no longer tribe members in the eyes of the government and therefore did not need protection.  They lost their tribal recognition. Although, they lost recognition and their identity in a legal sense, they did not lose their personal identities as Brothertown Tribe members.


Brothertown Members still practice traditional crafts including beading

Archaeologists must recognize that their excavations, publications, and work can impact the public and the group they are researching.  In the case of the Brothertown Tribe, the negative and incomplete research was misinterpreted to deny a tribe recognition.  As well, what exactly makes up an identity needs to be considered.  While the government may say that the Brothertown Tribe does not identify as a Native American tribe because of their settlement style and material culture, the members of the tribe to identify as Brothertown.  They are still working on becoming recognized today.



For more information about the Brothertown Tribe see:  and PBS

The requirements for Federal Recognition can be read here.


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What’s in a Name?

Names are very important to a person’s identity.  Anyone who has a unique name or spelling understands the feeling that comes when your name is pronounced for spelled wrong.  It doesn’t feel like your name.  It isn’t you.  This is a very common problem among the Native American people.  Throughout history their tribal names have been created more by outsiders than by the people themselves.  Many of the tribal names we know of today are names that were given to these people and not their true names or identities.  For example, the name Anasazi commonly associated with the people of Mesa Verde in Colorado is derived from a Navajo term which is often translated to “enemy ancestors”.  This was likely not the intention of those naming the now dubbed Ancestral Pueblo, it has a very negative meaning.  The term Ancestral Pueblo, while accepted as a better name, does not adequately communicate the ancestral history of the Pueblo people or the far-reaching influence of the Ancestral Puebloans.


Along with tribal names a major discussion is in the terminology used to describe the Native American People as a whole.  These names are also impressed upon them and often used in discrimination and oppression of identity.  The first name given to the inhabitants of this land was Indian or American Indian.  This was due to Christopher Columbus’ error in thinking he had reached the Indies.  The term is widely accepted and used because of its age.  But is an incorrect description of the people it refers to.  In the 1960s political correctness came into vogue as well as a unifying sense of having one American identity.  During this time there was a trend of hyphenating original identities with “American”.  Thus, you get African-American, Irish-American, and Native-American.  Again, although widely accepted and used this term is problematic because it forces the original population into a foreign and colonized identity.  As well, “Native” has two distinct and opposing meanings.  The first is that is refers to the original inhabitants which is correct.  However, European use of the word changed it to represent a primitive or ignorant culture which in and of itself is ignorant.

So, what should we call the original inhabitants of the United States?  We should call them what they want to be called. In the 1970s inhabitants of Canada decided to start using the term First Nation but this has gained little traction and has no legal standing yet.  In general, when referring to Native Americans/First Nation People, you should use their tribal affiliation over the generalized term.  However, as stated earlier, many of these names were given by outsiders or enemy tribes.  Sioux and Apache are corruptions of words meaning “enemy”.  With such complicated nomenclature, it is also better and respectful to ask what name a person would prefer.

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In 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation making November 23-30, 1986, American Indian Week.  Since then, each president has proclaimed the entire month of November to be Native American Heritage Month.  It is important to understand and respect Native American heritage and cultural traditions, especially has an archaeologist.  Archaeologists have extremely close interactions with Native American culture through their work.  We excavate their villages, identify their material culture, and try our best to preserve their heritage and work with First Nation communities in our work.

Archaeology in the past has not treated Native Americans very well.  The first American Archaeologist Thomas Jefferson destroyed sacred mounds that were thought to have been build by more civilized and advanced people.  The abuse was not isolated to the destruction of their sacred sites but also their ways of life.  In 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly removed from their traditional homes to an Indian Territory through a marched known as the trail of tears.  During this time many treaties between the tribes and government were signed a broken resulting in many conflicts.  Like other marginalized groups, Native American were given the right to vote late in US history.  However, when states began to require voter ID card with permanent street addresses, many Native American, who had PO box addresses, were again not able to vote and express their rights as citizens of the US.

Painting depiction of the Trail of Tears

 Bison geoglyph found in Iowa

The best way for archaeologists to help is to consult with the tribes before and throughout the life of a project.  Section 106 of the National Preservation Act of 1966 requires archaeological survey and consultation with Native American Tribes.  However, these requirements should not be simple check marks on a form.  To have the most effect consultation needs to be done throughout a project. A great example of how consulting throughout a project can make a difference is when the Iowa Department of Transportation discovered unique Native American geoglyphs while building a highway in 2013.  The Tribes were involved in every step and the highway was able to be redirected around the features.  For more about this project watch this video.

November may be Native American Heritage Month, but their heritage and traditions should be thought of throughout the year and during every project.  Years of prosecution and neglect has already limited the number of sites and strained trust between the tribes, government, and archaeologists.  We are working to preserve everything we can and regain that trust but it is a long and complicated road.




For more visit these sites:

Pueblo Voices

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