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November 23, 2021 // Scott Pansky // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

Q&A: PWNA leader addresses Thanksgiving, helping Native Americans

For more than seven years, Allison+Partners has worked with Partnership With Native Americans. During this time, we’ve collaborated on  numerous media and digital campaigns, PSAs, and special event support. Agency Co-Founder Scott Pansky and his family have volunteered on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, and Scott wrote about this experience in a previous American Indian Heritage Month blog. This year, he interviews PWNA President and CEO Josh Arce about the real story of Thanksgiving and what people can do to help make a difference in the lives of Native Americans this holiday season and beyond.

  • Who is PWNA?

Partnership With Native Americans is one of the largest Native-led nonprofits in the U.S. Founded in 1990, it addresses immediate needs and supports long-term solutions for hundreds of remote and impoverished reservation communities across the Northern Plains and Southwest regions of the U.S.

  •  Can you share with the us the real story of Thanksgiving?

A day of thanks did take place in Plymouth Colony in 1621, but it was quite different than the tale taught in schools today. Another day of thanks occurred in 1623 after the safe return of the men from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who had gone to fight against the Pequot in Mystic, Connecticut. This fighting led to the enslavement and massacre of more than 700 Pequot men, women and children, a precursor to what would be centuries of strife for Native peoples in America. 

Centuries later in 1970, Wampanoag leader Wamsutta Frank James started the National Day of Mourning. Occurring annually on Thanksgiving Day, it honors the death of Native Americans at the hands of the colonists and shines a light on the realities facing tribes today.

The proclamation of the first American “Thanksgiving” was Nov. 1, 1777, when the 13 colonies joined together over victory of the British at Saratoga, New York. It wasn’t until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln created the theme of a national Thanksgiving Day to calm people still in strife over the Civil War. That was just a year shy of the 38 Dakota Sioux hangings he approved. While intended to evoke unity, the first Thanksgiving had nothing to do with the tale now so familiar to many. It is critically important for people to better know the real history of their people, their government and their country.

  • What should people be doing today to recognize the real Thanksgiving?

One of the most important things to do is learn “The Real Story of the First Thanksgiving.” It’s available for download here: The Real Story of the First Thanksgiving.

Learn which tribes are still in your state, which tribe or tribes’ land your state occupies, and whether tribes in your state are federally recognized. Knowing these things and the realities facing the reservations today is the beginning of becoming #NativeAware. Learn more at

  • What can our followers do to support Native Americans?

One of the most immediate things people can do is support Native charities and remember Native Americans for Thanksgiving meals and winter warmth on  Giving Tuesday (Nov. 30).

In addition, November is American Indian Heritage Month, and we encourage everyone to join PWNA for 30 days of learning and actions people can take.  

  • Is there anything else you feel our readers should know about PWNA?

A BBB-accredited nonprofit, PWNA delivers more than 5 million pounds of goods to the reservations year-round and supports sustainable solutions. PWNA prioritizes quality of life and supports the self-determined goals of the Tribal communities it serves. Despite facing high food insecurity, energy insecurity, healthcare disparities and educational barriers, support for Native causes is less than 1% of all charitable giving in the U.S. Every American can help change this. Learn more at

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