¡Feliz viernes a todos!
As we move into November (I know, I cannot believe it’s November either!), I want to thank all my readers! This is a busy time in the semester/year so I appreciate the time you are spending with me on Friday mornings. Today, I wanted to kick off the month by expanding the discussion beyond the trite, problematic depiction of “the first Thanksgiving between Pilgrims and Indians” to which so many classrooms and communities still adhere. We do a disservice to ourselves and to others if we hold just to that depiction.
At various times over the past few years, Katrina has posted about how to contradict stereotypes associated with Thanksgiving and offered ways to “re-teach” it. At the bottom of my post, I’ve provided links to her posts on the topic. Today, I want to continue building on that conversation .The perpetuation of this story in classrooms, films, media, and sports has had a major impact on many who identify as Native American, Indian, or Indigenous. To help counter such harmful stereotypes, I draw your attention to a resource from Rethinking Schools: “Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving,” written by Michael Dorris. Dorris writes that “Thanksgiving, like much of American history, is complex, multifaceted, and will not bear too close a scrutiny without revealing a less-than-heroic aspect. Knowing the truth about Thanksgiving, both its proud and its shameful motivations and history, might well benefit contemporary children. But the glib retelling of an ethnocentric and self-serving falsehood does not do one any good.”
Because Dorris offers such a strong but succinct explanation for why the common narratives about Thanksgiving are so troubling, this article would be a good notice to send home with students to help families understand why the classroom is not talking about Thanksgiving the way it has been talked about in the classroom before. Dorris has children of his own and in his article; he discusses how “Society is teaching [his son] that ‘Indians’ exist only in an ethnographic frieze, decorative and slightly titillatingly menacing. They invariably wear feathers, never crack a smile,… and think about little besides the good old days” (Dorris 2). For his son, who is also Native American, this idea that Indians existed, instead of existing still today, has caused a great deal of confusion and even rejection of his own identity. This short, two-page article helps highlight what the stereotypes frequently surrounding the popular Thanksgiving story really do to us all as a society, with special regard for how they affect those identifying as Native American, Indian, or Indigenous. For another quick review of how stereotypes affect us all, you can visit Teaching Tolerance’s blog post on the Redskin’s football team or their post on “Planting Truthful Seeds about Native Americans.”
In closing, this month we will be providing resources that help shift the focus away from those “Pilgrim and Indian” stories towards the notions of celebrating gratitude. We will look at Thanksgiving less as a historical celebration and more as a seasonal cycle, focusing on how it relates to agriculture, traditions of harvest festivals around the world, and the importance of gratitude and family. We hope that these new ways of looking at Thanksgiving will inspire some of you to rethink the curriculum and just say “Thanks, but no thanks” to teaching the old stereotypes.
For those interested in expanding this conversation, here are links to Katrina’s articles:
- En la Clase: (Re)Teaching Thanksgiving
- En la Clase: Literature for Rethinking Thanksgiving
- En la Clase: Thanksgiving Reconsidered
Also, sort of as an aside, we have written an educator’s guide to accompany one of Michael Dorris’ books young adult books, Morning Girl. Although Morning Girl doesn’t directly relate to Thanksgiving, it could nicely complement efforts to rethink classroom conversations about indigenous peoples of the Americas. It’s a lyrical novel about two young Taino living in Hispaniola prior to Columbus’ arrival. For more about it, see our Educator’s Guide to Morning Girl.
As we move into the month I’ll offer additional ways for how to remove the focus from “Pilgrims and the Indians” and instead emphasize other aspects related to the season. As we will see in the coming weeks, our conversation can move beyond stereotypes and open up whole other realms of learning about understanding culture through food, agriculture, nature, and relationships with families and friends.
With warmest wishes,
Image: Photo of Pumpkins. Reprinted from Flickr user Jean-Marc Payet under CC ©.