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November 27, 2019

Lesson plan: After helping Pilgrims, today’s Wampanoag tribe fight for their ancestral lands

Photo by REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


In this PBS lesson plan, students will learn about the Wampanoag people, the ancestors of the Native American tribes who welcomed the Pilgrims at Plymouth nearly 400 years ago. Then students will examine current issues facing Wampanoags, including the continued fight for their ancestral lands and the preservation of their native language.


Social studies, U.S. History, English, Government

Estimated Time

One 45-minute period (with extension activities, two 45-minute periods)

Grade Level

Grades 9-12


  • Students will learn about today’s WAMPANOAG PEOPLE, the same Native American tribe who interacted with the Pilgrims at Plymouth nearly 400 years ago. Students will also examine current issues in which Wampanoag tribes continue to fight for their ancestral homelands, preserve their Native language for future generations and discuss the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Map showing locations of several Native American tribes, including the Wampanoag, who first met with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Photo via Wikipedia (GNU Free Documentation License for educational purposes)


1. Read the Indian Country Today article by Michelle Tirado, “THE WAMPANOAG SIDE OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING STORY.” Discuss the following questions:

  • How did the first arrival of European settlers at Plymouth in 1616 impact the Wampanoag tribe?
  • Why do you think the story of Thanksgiving described in the article changed so radically over the years?
  • What is your reaction after reading that some Wampanoag and other Native American tribes refer to Thanksgiving as the Day of Mourning?

2. Watch the film WAMPANOAG: REVIVING LANGUAGE and think about the impact language has on culture. How does learning a language help tribal members learn more about their culture and identity? Do you think learning about the history of the Wamponoag people could make the traditional telling of the Thanksgiving story more meaningful? Why or why not?

3. Visit the websites of the WAMPANOAG TRIBE OF GAY HEAD (Aquinnah) and the MASHPEE WAMPANOAG, two of the main remaining tribes of the Wampanoag Nation.

  • Discuss how the fight over tribal land is still a major issue for Native American tribes.
    • Read this Cape Cod News article from Nov. 12, 2015, “MASHPEE, TAUNTON, LAND OFFICIALLY IN TRUST.” Why was the federal government’s acquirement of land seen as a victory by Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman?
    • Looting sacred objects, including human remains, from indigenous cultures has been a major problem in the U.S and throughout the world for centuries. Many of these objects have ended up in museums or in private collections. Learn how the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) continues to fight for the REPATRIATION OR RETURN OF STOLEN OBJECTS.

4.  Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts is a popular destination for many school children studying the history of the Pilgrims, but students are also given the opportunity to learn and meet with members of the WAMPANOAG or other Native American tribes. Watch the VIDEO OF TIM TURNER, the manager of the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimouth Plantation, discuss wetus, the homes some Wampanoags lived in until the 1960s.

  • Describe some of the key characteristics of the wetus. What made them so durable?
  • Do you think it is important to learn about the perspective and experience of the Wampanoag People during the time the Pilgrims came to Plymouth? How about today? Explain your answer.
  • Why do you think we do not hear more present-day stories in the media or in school from some of the approximately 4,000 Wampanoags alive today?

5. Critically reflective response: Have students write a one-paragraph response to the following question based on the activities in this lesson. Do you think it’s possible to celebrate Thanksgiving, a day which many cherish as a time of showing thanks to friends and family, while learning about the effects of colonization on the Wampanoag and other Native American peoples?  Share some of the responses out loud with the class or have students share with their neighbor.

Extension activities

  1. Find out why Wampanoag tribal elder Tall Oak and fellow activists started the DAY OF MOURNING in 1970, the same day as Thanksgiving, to tell the story of the subjugation of the Wampanoag and other Native Americans. Discuss how some members of the Wampanoag Tribe work at Plimouth Plantations as a way to share their story and let visitors know that they still embrace their culture 400 years later.
  2. Read the articleCOURT DENIES TRIBE RIGHTS TO PURSUE GAMBLING ON MARTHA’S VINEYARD,” about the Aquinnah Wamponoag’s efforts to build a casino on their land. In recent years, several casinos have been built on Native American land, bringing in much needed revenue for the community. Why did the judge rule against the tribe in this case? Do you think this decision was fair? Explain your answer.
  3. Plans for the 400th anniversary in 2020 of the Mayflower’s arrival at Plymouth are in the works. Organizers are working with some members of the Wampanoag tribe and have included two history exhibits, which provide the Native American perspective on colonization and Thanksgiving. But others Wampanoag members, including Ramona Peters, chief historical preservation officer for the Mashpee Wampanoag, do not feel like celebrating. Find out more HERE.

by Victoria Pasquantonio, PBS NewsHour Extra

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

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