Manataka American Indian Council





Cherokees Didn't Celebrate American 'style' Thanksgiving

until 1885. . .



The Cherokees were raising corn as early as 1,000 BC. Before European contact the Cherokees already participated in a ceremony giving thanks for crops and it was a form of worship in what is known as the "Green Corn Ceremony". This traditional dance and festival was a very important ceremony for the Cherokees. This ceremony was the beginning of the New Year. Our ancestors gave thanks for the corn crop that they saw as a continued life for them. It was a time for forgiveness and grudges to be left behind - starting anew. A part of their celebration was fasting, then gathering at the ceremonial grounds to play stickball, dance and have a big feast. 


As settlers moved inland, Native Americans they encountered, including the Cherokee, assisted the early settlers and traders with food and supplies. This was a continual process not just a single meal. The Cherokees also taught the early settlers how to hunt, fish, and farm in their new environment. They also taught them how to use herbal medicine when they became ill. 


Sadly, as more people came to America , they didn't need the Native Americans help anymore and the newcomers had forgotten how the natives helped the earlier Pilgrims. Mistrust began to grow and the friendship weakened. The Pilgrims started telling their Native neighbors that their native religion and native customs were wrong. The relationships deteriorated and within a few years the children of the people who ate together at the first Thanksgiving were killing one another in what led to the King Phillip's War. 


In 1736, Christian Priber, a Frenchman, established himself among the Cherokees, learned their language, and taught them the European Christianity until he was arrested by the English and put in prison at Charleston, South Carolina. Even though the Cherokees worshipped in their own religion, the work of the missionaries converted some Cherokees to the European Christianity. The first known Cherokee converted to European Christianity was 1773. In 1801, the first permanent Christian Mission in the Cherokee Nation was called Moravian Mission. It was located at Spring Place, which is in present-day Georgia . As more Cherokees became Christians the custom of observing the English National Thanksgiving Holiday became common. 


D. W. Bushyhead, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, signed a proclamation on Thursday, November 26th, A. D. 1885 for Thanksgiving to be practiced by the Cherokees. The Proclamation reads, "The Cherokees have abundant reason to rejoice. They are favored in all things that should make a Nation prosperous and a people happy. They have an indisputable right to an area of land sufficient for the needs of generations of Cherokees to come. They have a perfect form of Government, wise laws, unsurpassed educational facilities for their children and money enough of their own invested to make these blessings permanent. It is true this Nation is neither numerous, wealthy nor powerful compared with many others, but it stands and relies upon the plighted faith of a Nation that has become the strongest on earth by reason of its respect for human rights." 


Today the major population of the Cherokee members celebrates the National Thanksgiving Holiday. There are a few Cherokees and other Native Americans who still celebrate the Green Corn Ceremony in July and the National Thanksgiving Holiday in November. 


*Note: Cultural information may vary from clan to clan, location to location, family to family, and from differing opinions and experiences. Information provided here are not 'etched in stone'.


Info provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center please contact

Submitted by Cara Cowan, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council, District 7  - Will Rogers





The Meaning of the Traditional Cherokee Thanksgiving Ceremony
The Green Corn Dance Ceremony

The Cherokees celebrated six major festivals during the year. These festivals were highly respected. The Green Corn Ceremony was held in late June or early July, depending upon when the first corn ripened and the phases of the moon. The Green Corn Ceremony lasted over four days at the ceremonial center. All the people fasted to purify the body and to allow the mind to concentrate on spiritual things. The dance lasted all day and the following night. The men and women's parts were performed separately but happened at the same time.

The council sent hunters at the beginning of the feast to supply the venison and the council then procured it for the dance. Once the Cherokees were able to eat after the fast, the feast included deer, corn, dried pumpkin and other food crops. The dances were believed to be necessary for planting. The medicine men had an important part to play in offering prayer
so that the corn would grow fast. It was also believed to prevent illnesses. 


It was a time for forgiveness and leave behind grudges and bad feelings toward one another. If you could not forgive, then you were not allowed to attend the dance. The Green Corn Dance was a dance for giving thanks to u-ne-tla-nv, for the new crop of corn.

Within the four days of the Green Corn Dance Ceremony, the Cherokees fasted, also played stickball, had corn sacrificing and went rinsing in the water for purification. The ceremony ended with a stickball game and breakfast.


[Cherokee families continue to celebrate the Green Corn Festival each year as their ancestors have done for thousands of years.]


Submitted by Carol Perez-Petersen


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