No Smiling Pilgrim and Indian Books for Thanksgiving Please

With thanksgiving  quickly approaching, many teachers and librarians, will be pulling out their collections of Thanksgiving books, images and artifacts to create holiday displays and engage children in discussions about the “first Thanksgiving” and what they are grateful for.  Unfortunately, most books written for children about the first Thanksgiving holiday are revisionist history, and NOT responsive.  Books with images of smiling Pilgrims, greeting smiling Indians misrepresent Native American culture, and the truth of the cultural genocide that is historical fact.

The  National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)  says this about Thanksgiving texts:

Most texts and supplementary materials portray Native Americans at the gathering as supporting players. They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic “Indians” who merely shared a meal with the intrepid Pilgrims. The real story is much deeper, richer, and more nuanced. The Indians in attendance, the Wampanoag, played a lead role in this historic encounter, and they had been essential to the survival of the colonists during the newcomers’ first year. The Wampanoag were a people with a sophisticated society who had occupied the region for thousands of years. They had their own government, their own religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system, and their own culture. They were also a people for whom giving thanks was a part of daily life.

Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature offers this:

Think about it this way. Just for a moment. Europeans invaded the homelands of Native peoples and their nations all over the Americas. There were wars. Death. Incarceration. Brutal programs designed to "kill the Indian and save the man." Native peoples and our cultures were attacked. But we persevered, and many of us we have a different view of this holiday. A lot of people tell us "get over it" and the like.

Fortunately, there are resources and  ways to create responsive Thanksgiving lessons for your students. Here are a few:

  • Make discussions about the concepts and practices of gratitude/giving thanks.

  • Validate and Affirm the diverse ways students celebrate Thanksgiving.

  • Teach and discuss the real, not revised version of the story.

Take a look at these additional resources to help create responsive Thanksgiving lessons:

Oyate Thanksgiving Resources

American Indians in Children's LIterature

Reading While White - Thinking About Thanksgiving

Native American Word Association - Youtube

And don't forget to check out the November VABB Perspectives Newsletter to get info/ideas for VABB Mindset and Skillset!