Here are some interesting articles we received and discovered with a cross section of views on the Thanksgiving holiday. Rather than presenting our synopsis and views on this subject. we have provided five articles that we encourage all of our reader to review and make your own conclusions regarding the celebration of Thankgiving for your family and your classrooms.
The “Manifest Destiny” Narrative Routinely Ignores Voices of Indigenous Peoples in the Thanksgiving Story
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Thanksgiving is an important time, when schools teach the story of who we are and where we come from as a nation.
My own students have told me about the Thanksgiving story they learned in school, which focused solely on the survival of the Pilgrims and the friendly meal shared with “Indians.”
In my research and experience as a teacher educator, I have found social studies curricular materials (textbooks and state standards) routinely place indigenous peoples in a troubling narrative that promotes “Manifest Destiny” – the belief that the creation of the United States and the dominance of white American culture were destined and that the costs to others, especially to indigenous peoples, were justified.
As we consider history and its place in our schools, it is important to ask: how do state-mandated history standards represent indigenous peoples in social studies education? And, in this season of “Thanksgiving,” should we revise our curriculum to be more accurate and culturally relevant?
Placing indigenous peoples in the shadows of the past
From late 2011 through early 2013, social studies scholars Ryan Knowles, Greg Soden, Antonio Castro and I conducted a thorough study of state-mandated K-12 history standards across all 50 states and Washington DC. We analyzed the standards in two ways: 1) the percentage of standards that included content about indigenous peoples pre-1900 versus post-1900 and 2) how the standards presented the story of indigenous peoples in US history.
We found 87% of the standards placed indigenous peoples in a pre-1900 context. In other words, these standards confined indigenous peoples to a distant past. This pre-1900 time stamp is significant because the turn of the 20th century saw increased American military conquests of indigenous lands and peoples as the country expanded west toward the Pacific Ocean.
But the standards rarely, if ever, present these events and the loss of life and land from the perspective of indigenous peoples. Other scholars have written about similar findings in their research.
For example, University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Wayne Journell found that 10 states – California, Georgia, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – conclude their coverage of indigenous cultures and histories in US history standards around the “removal policies” of the 1830s.
Removal policies, led in large part by President Andrew Jackson, forcibly moved indigenous peoples off their lands. These policies, legalized under the Indian Removal Act, opened territories to American settlers traveling west. Our research on curriculum standards also found that while most states included the Indian Removal Act, many excluded any consideration of the consequences to indigenous peoples related to their forced removal.
Prentice Chandler, who researches race and racism in social studies education at the University of Cincinnati, articulates the problem of placing indigenous peoples in the distant past, in the following way:
The treatment of American Indians in history texts pushes them to the fringes of the story: Native Americans are seen as having cordial relations with whites, being obstacles for Manifest Destiny, and eventually succumbing to white progress, never to be discussed again, as though they never existed.
Perpetuation of stereotypes
Along with controlling when indigenous peoples are included, standards and textbooks also dictate how their experiences are told. Historians Clifford Trafzer and Michelle Lorimer found that California social studies textbooks failed to include critical content about the kidnapping, rape, enslavement and murder of indigenous peoples during the Gold Rush era of the mid- to late-1800s. The texts instead focused on the exciting lives of American pioneers who traveled West in search of wealth.
Boarding school experiences
There are many other such glaring omissions. My own research looked at how textbooks published between 2011 and 2013 wrote about the “boarding school era” – the period after the Civil War and into the 1900s during which the federal government used legal means to remove indigenous children from their homes.
Six of the eight textbooks I studied wrote that these education policies were peaceful reforms. These texts presented, above all, the perspectives of white American reformers. These reformers believed boarding schools should be used to Christianize and educate indigenous children in the white American way of life.
The perspectives of indigenous peoples affected by this education policy were largely ignored. The textbooks did not include the stories of indigenous parents’ efforts to fight the removal of their children. Very few of the texts featured testimonies from indigenous children themselves – either positive or negative. There was little discussion of the lasting effects of these policies today. Even when indigenous peoples were included in the textbooks, it was only as short, simplified sidebars or at the end of chapters.
Francis Rains, a scholar of Native American studies and history at Evergreen State College, and Karen Swisher, an education scholar and former president of Haskell Indian Nations University, have asked teachers to consider the following when teaching about indigenous peoples:
We believe that we should be asking what should be taught, when it should be taught, and how it should be taught. Perhaps most importantly, we should be asking, Why are we teaching about “Indians” or “Native Americans”?
If there was really a Plymouth Thanksgiving dinner, with Native Americans in attendance as either guests or hosts, then the event was rare indeed. Pilgrims generally considered Indians to be devils in disguise, and treated them as such.
In social studies we have an opportunity to invite students to rethink things, to offer alternatives, even of past events, as a means of learning. As citizens of a country that prides itself on justice and democracy, we have an opportunity to help students understand the consequences of when justice and/or democracy fails.
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At noon on Thanksgiving, a group of Native Americans and their allies will gather at Cole’s Hill above Plymouth Rock, next to a statue of Massasoit — chief of the Wampanoag nation when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.
But it’s not to celebrate. Instead, they will take part in a solemn observation of the 50th National Day of Mourning.
“We remember the millions of our ancestors who were murdered by uninvited European colonists such as the Pilgrims,” said Moonanum James, co-leader of the United American Indians of New England, in a statement. “Today, we, and many indigenous people around the country, say, ‘No Thanks, No Giving.’”
What is the traditional Thanksgiving story?
What most people learned in school is the story of a 1621 peaceful gathering between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, celebrating that the Pilgrims had survived their first winter in Massachusetts.
What are the other versions of this story?
According to a 2011 story in Indian Country Today, Massasoit met with the Pilgrims only after gunfire was heard coming from their village. When the Wampanoag arrived, they were invited to join the meal, but there was not enough food, so Massasoit sent people out and they returned with five deer. That was the exchange of gifts. And that was in March, not in November.
Ruth Hopkins, a Native American writer and lawyer and member of the Great Sioux Nation, says the holiday originated after a massacre that killed 700 Pequot in 1637. Months earlier, a white privateer was found dead in his boat, and the colonists blamed the Pequot, who lived at what is now Mystic, Conn. In retaliation, settlers, assisted by Mohegan and Narragansett warriors, attacked the Pequot village and burned their houses in a predawn raid on May 26, while most were asleep. Hopkins said John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for the end of the fighting and the safe return of the soldiers.
“The 12th of the 8th m.[onth] was ordered to be kept a day of publicke thanksgiving to God for his great m’cies in subdewing the Pecoits, bringing the soldiers in safety, the successe of the conference…,” according to a journal of Winthrop’s.
Alternatively, some historians report that Winthrop first called for a day of thanksgiving as early as July 8, 1630, to give thanks for ships that had arrived safely from England after a stormy voyage.
How did it become a national holiday?
Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both called for a day of thanksgiving in the aftermath of war.
Washington issued a thanksgiving proclamation after the Revolutionary War on Oct. 3, 1789, designating for “the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving” to be held on “the 26th day of November.” in that year.
On Oct. 3, 1863, in gratitude for the Union victory at Gettysburg, Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be celebrated on Nov. 26, 1863.
How do Native Americans mark the holiday?
Native Americans were having harvest feasts hundreds of years before the colonists arrived.
Hopkins said many of the Sioux Nation, who live in the Dakotas, Montana and Minnesota, gather and share a meal. But it will be in the spirit of gratefulness for food and life.
Many tribes don’t mark the holiday.
How did the National Day of Mourning start?
The first National Day of Mourning took place in September 1970, when Wamsutta Frank James was invited to give a speech to observe the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in 1620.
When organizers of the event looked at James’ speech, they asked him to rewrite it. “They said, ‘Well, we can’t allow you to read that, ’cause 90% of the people would walk out,” Tall Oak of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe told CNN in a recent article.
The group United American Indians published the speech on its website under the heading, “The Suppressed Speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, Wampanoag, To have been delivered at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1970.”
James never delivered the speech and walked out. That became the first National Day of Mourning.
What happens on the National Day of Mourning?
By custom, marches and speeches will address current issues.
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Every year at this time I wonder why we, as American Indians, bother to celebrate Thanksgiving. Despite all our social ills and battles with state and the federal government, we always manage to find reasons for gratitude.
Of course, there are native people who reject the holiday altogether. One man once told me he refused to celebrate because it would mean accepting our defeat. I get his point, but there’s more to Thanksgiving than that.
As a boy growing up in northern Minnesota, the holiday was one of the few days of the year where peace reigned in the household. My father was sober. We all helped out with cleaning and doing mounds of dishes—without complaint. We watched football, and the older brothers trudged through the snow to cut down a Christmas tree. Being Indian had nothing to do with giving thanks.
But the innocence of youth is lost too quickly in this world. The reality of racism is so demoralizing. Being called a no-good Indian. Growing up with no connection to your Indian values and language, while not living among your own people. It brings you face-to-face with the brutal reality of looking like an Indian but being expected to live white.
In my early 20s, I found a thriving Indian community at my university, and at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on the south side. In my 30s, as a budding journalist, I got interested in our own news—in combating racism in the city and tribal corruption on the reservation. I began to see and interact with the world through red eyes.
Later, when I was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my nephew Nick lived with me while attending high school. Each Thanksgiving, I would invite my brothers for the weekend. Before feasting, we would prepare a Spirit Plate for our ancestors, grandmother, mother, and lost siblings. We would set the plate under a tree. A Spirit Plate is to help those who have walked on in their new journey.
This year, as usual, there is much to be grateful for in Indian Country, and much to mourn. As they say, the rains pour on the just and unjust. Wars and conflicts continue. Fires, hurricanes, and mass shootings continue to plague all of the nation’s people.
For Indians, there have been the expected highs and lows. For the first time, two Native women were elected to the U.S. Congress. Democrat Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, will represent New Mexico and Democrat Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna Tribe, will represent Kansas. Our voices are finally being heard in Washington, D.C.
Sadly, in North Dakota, Republican leaders tried their darndest to suppress the native vote by requiring identification cards to list street addresses when the majority of Indians only have post office boxes. Less than 100 years have passed since Indians gained the right to vote. Now they’re trying to take that right away.
On the other hand, a U.S. District Court judge has blocked Trump’s attempt to move ahead with the Keystone XL oil pipeline in the Dakotas. He ordered more environmental tests to ensure the water and lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are protected against contamination. Though temporary, it’s still a victory for natives and concerned whites.
There is another reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since 1990, Washington has marked November as Native American Heritage Month. Its purpose is to celebrate the survival and contributions the First People have made to their own communities and to broader society. Feasts, some pow wows, and ceremonies help bring native people to the forefront.
The more pushback Indians face, the stronger our resolve to move toward meaningful change. It’s a new future. And that is something Indian Country can be thankful for this holiday season.
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It’s hard to say when or how it started, but a few years ago my husband and I quit celebrating Thanksgiving.
The decision came gradually, after many conversations, after many autumns wrestling with the same uneasy feeling that came each time we gathered around a table to give thanks, to stuff our bellies full.
As immigrants from El Salvador and Armenia, we know about the sorrow of having our pasts rewritten, our genocide and massacres, time and time again, neglected or denied.
Then we had our first child.
With her presence came this pressure, a responsibility to teach her all the truths about the founding of this country that as kids we were never taught.
But where do you begin to educate your child when some of your most vivid memories from grade school are of wearing handmade buckle-top Pilgrim hats and feathered Indian headbands? Growing up, I performed in at least two Thanksgiving feast plays, bringing to life one of two characters: Happy Pilgrim. Happy Indian.
I wanted to call my friend Jason, a full-blooded Navajo and the only Native person I’ve ever known. But it felt odd to ask him, out of the blue: Hey, Jason, how do I explain to my daughter what really happened to your people?
One fall day, I was emptying her backpack and found a small, stapled booklet with a familiar face on the cover: Christopher Columbus. My stomach sank as I flipped through the pages and saw how dutifully my girl had tried to stay inside the lines as she colored each chapter of his transatlantic voyage to discover the Americas.
“I know this might be confusing,” I told her. “But I need you to know this man is not a hero. He and many others caused a lot of people a lot of pain. When you’re older, Papa and I will tell you more of the story.”
But the truth was, we still had no clue how to start. And if we couldn’t begin telling our children this nation’s story, how could we ever speak to them about our personal histories?
One day, my husband would need to guide our kids through the Armenian genocide, tell them how the Ottoman Empire, now modern-day Turkey, systematically killed 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.
One day, I’d need to tell them that, back in the 1980s, my family and I fled El Salvador because a powerful oligarchy, with help from the United States, waged a war that killed more than 75,000 Salvadorans. A Truth Commission for El Salvador report attributed 85% of the acts of violence to state agents.
How do you look at your child and say: Here, my love, take this painful burden.
Then again, how do you stay silent and leave the storytelling entirely to others — to school systems and schoolbooks that have for generations left so much of us out?
One thing about living in the United States that we caught on to real fast were the holidays. For each ritual on the calendar, we learned what props to buy and just how to perform — greeting cards on Valentine’s Day, green clothing on St. Patrick’s Day, costumes on Halloween.
The only script we never fully learned to follow was Thanksgiving.
The gratitude part was easy. My die-hard Catholic mother will seize any chance to round us up and give God props. But the food? That was a different story.
Sitting at home each year with our paper plates and our panes con chumpe (a traditional Salvadoran turkey sandwich), I pictured the rest of America at a bountiful table lined with fine china, re-creating Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want,” that famous painting with the matriarch presenting her family a perfect Thanksgiving turkey on a platter.
I’ve learned over the years that as a Salvadoran immigrant raised in this country, I’m the kind of American whose history can easily be erased.
Up until a year ago, I knew nothing of my own roots, my mestizo-indigenous past.
From reading, I recently found that much of my Salvadoran Spanish, the beautiful caliche words I rarely use outside my home because, who will understand — encachimbada (angry), guishte (shard of lass), fufurufa (snobby), chambón (messy) — are part of a dialect influenced by the Pipil people of western El Salvador.
As a journalist, I’ve found myself wanting to share these and other truths about Central America, including the painful ways the U.S. has destabilized for decades nearly every aspect of life in this region.
To do this, I recently attended a writing workshop, a seminar that motivates journalists of color to publish their personal stories. For two days, I listened to powerful essays written by a group of black, Latino, Asian and South Asian peers. Among us, there was one Native American — a member of the Acoma Pueblo nation.
Rhonda LeValdo, a journalist and professor from Kansas, read out loud a piece she wrote about the trauma and exhaustion of having to continually deal with people who gloss over the history of her Native American ancestors — those millions of people who were once killed, robbed of their land, tradition and language.
A day after I came home from the workshop, I was emptying my daughter’s backpack when I found an invitation. It was to a play she would be starring in: “Thanksgiving at Plymouth!”
The script focused on Squanto, a Pawtuxet man who was enslaved by English traders and later heartbroken to find that his people were “wiped out by diseases from England.”
Squanto went on to support the cold, hungry Pilgrims who fled to America seeking religious freedom. He helped them from sunrise to sundown, became their teacher and friend.
In the end, the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to a feast. The Pilgrims “gave thanks for all that they had. Pilgrims and Native Americans together were glad.”
I stared at that happy ending for a while, read it several times.
I thought of my daughter’s first-grade teacher, of all the teachers who over time will come into her life and, bit by bit, shape her mind with their hard work, their best intentions.
Should My Black Child Participate in Her Thanksgiving Day Play? A Look Into the Need for Culturally Competent Pedagogy
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Adorned in pilgrim pageantry and indigenous garb, Charles Shultz’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a seasonal fixture on network television since its first release in 1973. While draped with lessons about friendship, thankfulness, and community, there is still a reenactment of the Mayflower story that irks me to my core. He along with many others who choose to illustrate this story typically approach it with a colonial bend that broadly glosses over the genocide and exile of indigenous people in order to focus on the freedom and victory of the White pilgrims. As a Black parent with an inquisitive Black child, I anticipate being left to answer difficult questions about our place in history including that which surrounds this story. I’m plagued with internal battles regarding whether I allow her to dress up like a pilgrim or indigenous person at her school’s Thanksgiving Day Play, at the request of her teacher. Do I continue to perpetuate this occasion as a jovial interaction between captor and captee by simply telling her she looks cute in her headdress and twirled her “I am Squanto” sign masterfully?
With the achievement gap amongst Black and White students growing wider every day, the enthusiasm surrounding learning becomes further challenged when there is a lack of inclusive education or sensitive instruction. If Black or Brown students are constantly being reminded of a history that doesn’t include their culture or perspective, how are they to reconcile what they are learning to who they are? Does this positioning present a broader psychological disparity regarding the perception of their own abilities? This “stereotype threat,” as referenced throughout the extensive research of Claude Steele, signals the manifestation of historically placed ideologies that present intellectual barriers to students who don’t view their capacity outside of their cultural narrative.
When more than 80% of U.S. teachers are White and the demography of classrooms continue to include more students of color, culturally conscious teaching methods are not only essential, but should be within the fabric of every curriculum. The suggestion that inclusion has become a global agenda for educational institution is being argued by scholars around the world, for example Lawrie et. al. cites that instructors “should concern themselves with increasing the participation and broad educational achievements of all groups of learners who have historically been marginalized.”
I’m not asking for there to be a color-blind approach to teaching or to shift the focus of difficult references as was posited in an NPR article titled, “How to Talk to Kids about Thanksgiving.” Simply eliminating the origin of the acknowledgment, to yield toward a more pleasant iteration, is not the answer. As Bettina Washington, a Wampanoag tribal historic preservation officer reflects, “It’s not a pretty history by any stretch of the imagination, but we need the story to be told truthfully”. This country has for too long utilized the education system to further its desire to maintain a white patriarchal space.
Because race is not a topic that, even in 2019, the country seems completely comfortable in discussing, there is an inclination to continuously feed our kids a more digestible approach to U.S. History. Evidence of this fact was found in a 2015 McClatchy-Marist Poll when only 8% of high school seniors identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Understanding that we are not interested in placing blame or identifying villains, white fragility has to depart to be able to address difficult times in history in a way that strengthens the consciousness of all students and challenges the ideology that shaped the development of this nation.
I bet you are wondering whether I decided to let my daughter perform in her Thanksgiving Day play? Sure I did– she is only 5 years old. While she has recognition of ethnic differences, she isn’t yet conflicted by these topics, nor do I want her to be; she will have plenty of time for that. However, I will always be truthful with her and present her with thoughtful answers to these difficult questions. I will stand as a concerned parent and advocate for inclusive conversations with her teachers and elementary administrators. My goal is for her and all Black and Brown children to receive instruction that encourages them to embody the power and strength of their ancestors.
Now for our Quote of the Week:
“Being Indian is an attitude, a state of mind, a way of being in harmony with all things and all beings. It is allowing the heart to be the distributor of energy on this planet; to allow feelings and sensitivities to determine where energy goes; bringing aliveness up from the Earth and from the Sky, putting it in and giving it out from the heart.” – Brooke Medicine Eagle
Have a great week!!!
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