Telling Thanksgiving’s Story in a Vanishing American Language


A new film could be a vehicle for saving a dying American Indian tongue. (Nat Geo News)

Use our resources to learn more about Nat Geo’s television movie, “Saints and Strangers,” the story of the early events of Plymouth Colony.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

What does Western Abenaki sound like? Listen to these stories (one familiar, one less familiar) to find out.

Discussion Ideas

  • The Nat Geo News article discusses many Native American identities, including Algonquin, Western Abenaki, Wampanoag, and Patuxet. How are these concepts different from each other?
    • Algonquin describes a wide collection of cultures and people speaking a common language group. Algonquin peoples were originally native to what is now northeastern and central Canada and the United States.
    • Western Abenaki is a language. Actually, the article tells us, it’s is an amalgamation of a vast group of languages once spoken throughout what are today Vermont, New Hampshire, and parts of eastern Canada. (Just to make things confusing, the Abenaki are also a Native American tribe in the New England region of the United States and a First Nations government in Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.)
    • The Wampanoag were a confederation of several bands of Native American communities. The great Wampanoag leader Massasoit, for instance, was from the Pokanoket band of Wampanoag. Today, the two largest Wampanoag communities are both in Massachusetts: the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
    • The Patuxet were a band of Wampanoag. Squanto, the remarkable Native American diplomat, was from the Patuxet band of Wampanoag.



CLICK TO ENLARGE!!! This map shows the location of Native American groups in part of North America before the mid-1700s. Can you find the Wampanoag? The Algonquin (Algonkian)?
Map by The Choices Program, Brown University
  • Take a look at today’s beautiful map of Native American Languages. Besides the Wampanoag, can you identify other pre-contact tribes that spoke an Algonquian language?
    • The Penobscot, native to what is today northern Maine, spoke Eastern Abenaki. Today, Eastern Abenaki is an extinct language.
    • The Powhatan confederation, native to what is today eastern Virginia, spoke an Algonquian language called either Powhatan or Virginian Algonquian. Today, Powhatan is an extinct language.
    • The Shawnee, native to the Ohio Valley, spoke Shawnee. Today, Shawnee is a threatened language.
    • The Blackfoot, a confederation native to the northern Great Plains, spoke an Algonquian language called either Blackfoot or Siksika. Today, thanks to a successful education campaign, thousands of people in the British province of Alberta and the U.S. state of Montana speak Blackfoot.
    • The Arapaho, native to the central Great Plains, spoke an Algonquian language called either Arapaho or Heenetiit. Today, Arapaho is an endangered language.





Nat Geo: Telling Thanksgiving’s Story in a Vanishing American Language

Nat Geo: Saints and Strangers

Nat Geo: Native American Languages and Groups

Western Abenaki: Abenaki Creation Story

Western Abenaki: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

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