Thanksgiving Without the Teepee

Every year in November, in a multitude of ways, Americans distort the story of Thanksgiving. Are you guilty of blending the facts and myths? Do you perpetuate the stereotypes and generalizations? The answer you are looking for is, yes. Isn't everyone guilty of this at some point? I know I am. After all, most of us grew up with only partially accurate stories about the Pilgrims and the Indians.

Even in some of today's classrooms, students only learn about Native American culture during the month of November. Because all American Indians are alike? Were they all at the first Thanksgiving? Yes, I know. I'm exhausting all possible labels for America's indigenous peoples. Thanksgiving as a jumping-off point for studying American Indians, yes! I've just never really seen that happen. It's more like that one time that all the Native American tribes- usually referred to in past tense, as if there are no Indians left in America- had dinner with the Pilgrims. In recent years I was even in a classroom where the teacher pulled all of her Thanksgiving books into one section for easy access for the students. Among the titles was a book about Pocahontas and another about the Cherokee Nation, neither of which was remotely relevant to the history or tradition of Thanksgiving. I don't think the teacher believed that all of these books were related to Thanksgiving or that all American Indians are the same. However, like so many of us, she either didn't care or want to take the time to think about the implications.

Now that we're homeschooling, I wanted to do my best to set the record straight in our house. I planned to go all Howard Zinn- dialed back a notch for age appropriateness. I'm sharing some of my favorite references here in hopes they might assist others in breaking the cycle of misinformation and also so I can easily access them for the future.

Education World: Teach the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving" is a helpful guide for positive teaching strategies, avoiding stereotypes, and considering the Native American perspective.
The REAL Story of Thanksgiving by Susan Bates provides details about what a day of "thanksgiving" really meant in early colonial days.

Native Child: Teaching Kids the Wonderful Diversity of American Indians offers teaching strategies, facts, and statistics about American Indian cultures. While it is not a Thanksgiving reference, it does shine a light on some of the stereotypes reinforced by not teaching it accurately. 

The Wampanoag by Kevin Cunningham  This nonfiction book is part of A True Book: American Indians, published by Scholastic. The reading level is 5.4 and offers a deeper look into Squanto's life and the decades of war that ensued after the first Thanksgiving.

explores what life was like for a Wampanoag boy. The reading level is  4.6 and the photographic story includes Wampanoag words, with a glossary and pronunciation key.

We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower is episode one of a five-part PBS television series and it is so phenomenal I plan to keep watching. The episode is long and may be best suited for older kids. We watched it in segments and I paused it several times to discuss the dialogue. This film was more enriching than any other program or book I could recommend, offering an opportunity to hear Algonquin dialect and interviews with Wampanoag people. It's a must see, even if you aren't exploring the first Thanksgiving, which takes a backseat to all of the other history.

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